First one I heard about was Macy’s. Then Sears and KMart. Then JC Penney. Then mall staple The Limited closed 250 stores. Then long-beleaguered American Apparel announced store closings. Now BCBG announced plans to close several stores. By the time this post goes live, there’ll likely be more to add to the list.

The list of nationwide retail store closings is astonishing in scope, but completely unsurprising when you really consider it on a case by case basis. The way we shop has completely changed and so many of these stores simply are not evolving quickly enough.

Macy Bella-12

photo by Chuck Olu-Alabi for this post

I grew up in Trinidad and I spent many, many, MANY of my formative years in a mall.  When I was young, I helped out for the holiday season at a family friend’s perfume and cosmetics store. I was a precocious 8 year old, telling grown women what lipstick to wear and what perfume to buy. When I was 11, my mom opened a store in the mall called Lounging, focusing on (what else?) loungewear and lingerie. I got to see close up and first hand how beautiful it can be to conceive of an idea and open a retail space. I also got to see close up and first hand how difficult it can be to sustain a customer base and to keep a business going. You may have incredible merchandise, but if prices are steep or you’re not providing the sizes and variety your customer is looking for, it’s on to the next store. That rent never stops coming, and it only gets bigger. My mom and dad closed Lounging in 92 or 93. I know they learned some tough lessons in business from that experience.

Now I live in downtown Chicago, and shopping is on a whole different level. When I go shopping here, it’s on State Street where all of the big stores have exciting retail experiences to explore. Or on Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile where so many store headquarters and flagships are vying for attention. The sidewalks are packed, but if you look past some of these glittering storefronts you may wonder how the heck they’re keeping the lights on.

I live in a big city and don’t drive much, so I rarely wind up in a traditional mall. But when I DO walk through a mall, I notice the emptiness in comparison to years past. Malls are suffering, in the wake of these store closings. The whole landscape is changing right before our eyes.

The recent headlines made me stop and think about my own shopping habits.


Photo by Chuck Olu-Alabi for this post

Here’s what makes me go to a physical retail store:


More and more, I’m likely to buy online. What makes me shop online?


I’m plus sized myself so I may be erring on the side of bias here, but lack of size inclusion has absolutely led me to avoid certain retail stores. I really think too many stores are being willfully obtuse (and/or discriminatory? Discuss) about this. If the average size of the American woman is a 16 (or 1X) then why are mainstream stores still not including plus sizes in store? It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’m talking about the stores I don’t venture in because they don’t have a plus department, or made their plus size clothing online only. I don’t go into your stores if I know all I can buy is accessories. You are turning away a customer for no valid reason. All money is green, y’all. Come and get this market share.

I don’t understand the mentality, and it’s something I see with my own eyes all the time. My favorite Nordstrom Rack cut down their plus department by three whole racks, leaving a scant two racks of pants and tops for plus women of all ages to pick over. I’ve exchanged many a long-suffering sigh with a fellow plus sister while browsing the sole, poorly organized dress rack, which is stuffed with frocks from size 2 to 22. It’s steadily gotten worse over time.

At least Nordstrom Rack has plus size clothes worth looking at. The last time I went into Dick’s Sporting Goods they literally did not have any plus size workout clothing in this giant cavernous store filled with EVERYTHING BUT what I came in for. Why would you not sell workout clothing in sizes above XL, considering the average size of the American woman? We’re trying to work out too, y’all. I asked a store associate if they sold any workout pants in a size 2X, she told me no. I tweeted this.

So guess what happened. I went to the Burlington Coat Factory in the very same shopping complex and got a bunch of plus size workout pants and tees at a bargain. And that was the last time I went to Dick’s — September 4, 2015. Why would I go back when they don’t have what I need? When plus size athletic clothes and athleisure are just a click away, on trend and at decent prices? When I can buy the rest of my sports equipment needs on Amazon AND read reviews helping me choose the best item at the best price with free shipping because, Prime?
You see my point. I’m just one customer, looking for a reason to go to a store. Give me one reason.

So where do I shop, when I shop?

I still do love shopping and the bulk of my shopping is done online. But there are some physical retail experiences I still enjoy and look forward to.

I will forever love independent boutiques. I love indie designer sale events like Randolph Street Market. I love pop-up stores. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where there’s stuff like that going on regularly.

In the summer, I love the Chicago farmers markets and look forward to going, because the produce is amazing, I love the baked goods AND there are usually booths of jewelry, clothing and accessories to browse. I try to support as many small businesses as possible, in general. And I love unique purchases that support good causes.

Even though I receive many products for review, I LOVE going to Sephora – especially the killer flagship store on Michigan Ave! I also have a soft spot for Ulta. Anytime, anyplace I can browse a makeup and hair product section, I do. So if I am at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart or Target, that’s where you’re probably going to find me.

For in-store retail therapy, in downtown Chicago’s Loop I usually zip into Torrid and Lane Bryant, H&M, Forever 21, and that aforementioned Nordstrom Rack with too-few plus size racks. I like stores where I can see how deep the discount is on my purchase, so I like Nordstrom Rack and Neiman Marcus Last Chance. It’s about price, quality, the perception of bargains.

I hear Zara has sizes up to 2X now and I’ve been meaning to stop by and check it out. Local chain Akira also has plus size items worth browsing.

I love me some Macy’s. If I need a dress or a blazer for an event, the 5th floor of the State Street store is always worth checking out. I just wish they would do more with their plus size section. Cater to your consumer. Give us a reason to shop and share, make the experience exciting on all floors!

I totally love shopping at Target — first of all, I respect their inclusivity and I intentionally give them my dollars because of that. It’s clean, they have clothing that’s on trend and affordable, and I LOVE the home stuff, I want everything Threshold! Plus, Target has added value — cool designer partnerships and consistently high quality in-house brands, Starbucks and usually a restaurant — the ones nearest me in Chicago feature either Pret a Manger (which can be pretty good for a quick bite) or Freshii (which I LOVE and get cravings for). Now my husband is super into the Cartwheel app, so we find reasons to go to Target.

I thoroughly enjoy World Market and always spend more than I mean to when I go there. I always find delicious items for my pantry and super cute, on-trend picks for kitchen, dining and home. Plus they often have cute accessories.

I love thrift shopping when I’m able to go and take the time. I love shopping at TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods (I used to love Ross, but now I can’t find anything to wear there anymore. For me, the clothing quality isn’t what it used to be. At least at my nearest Ross).

I can’t think of another store that competes with IKEA (why is that?) so inevitably I wind up in IKEA a few times a year. Plus, it falls in line with my preference of a one-stop-shopping experience, because of their food.

That’s pretty much all that comes to mind in my neck of the woods. I asked my relatives (just spent last week with the in-laws) before writing this piece. One sister-in-law loves Francesca’s Collections and wanted to give them a shout out. We mentioned Charming Charlie as having a fun and unique shopping environment. My mom-in-law mentioned Mejiers and Menards. If I’m near a Walmart, I do like to look around in their beauty and hair department, and check out their plus size clothes – quite a few of my favorite natural hair and beauty brands are on those shelves.

But that’s about it.

I don’t think the wave of retail store closings is over yet. My prediction? Restaurants are next. Any ubiquitous chain stores that are consistently empty when you stroll by. How much longer do they have left?

But enough about what I think. What are your thoughts? Where do you shop, when you shop? And why?

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pets says:
January 24, 2017, 10:21 am
Excellent and indepth post. Here in Trinidad and Tobago (TnT) stores in malls and otherwise are either downsizing/relocating because of the exorbitant rents Or closing completely. I believe that high rents, increased online shopping and lack of choice is leaving physical stores no choice but to close or to downsize or relocate out of the mall itself. And here in TnT we have the added problem of getting enough US$ to 1. enable store owners/groceries etc. to purchase goods, 2. allow online shoppers enough funds on their credit cards and 3. now we have a 7% online shopping tax. Another issue of concern besides loss of jobs, salaries, stores and goods is what will become of the now empty shop fronts, malls etc.? Governments, landlords and store owners need to meet and discuss ways and means to keep things going even if it is a smaller number of stores and hopefully easier rents.
Pam McCray says:
January 24, 2017, 5:15 pm
Excellent article. I haven't shopped in a brick and mortar retail store in years. I shop online. I hate to wait, crowds, people's unraised kids, looking for parking only to buy something that everybody else is wearing. My clothes are unique, yes others purchase from online stores too, but their pipeline is not multi-marketed to over 250 stores. I, like you, seek plus sizes and too many retail fashion outlet just don't get it. We voluptuous ladies are no longer forced to shop the frumpy side of the isle.
Lily says:
January 24, 2017, 7:33 pm
I pretty much sew everything I wear even fitness wear. However, I will go into stores to see what I can buy really cheap and re-purpose, such as a blouse into a wrap top or attaching a skirt to a top turning it into a dress. I also thrift shop for clothes with vintage buttons, buckles, snaps, zippers and appliques that I can take off and use on items that I make.
Kiss & Make-up says:
January 26, 2017, 4:27 am
I'm definitely more of an online shopper than a physical shopper. I just like the convenience of it. Plus I have a fairly easy body to dress, easy size and shape.
juliette says:
January 27, 2017, 10:52 pm
What a great article! I occasionally buy online but still love the instore experience even though it has it's issues. My closest Macys - downtown San Francisco - actually has a great plus size department and wonderful sales. (Just scored 2 Rachel Roy tops for $30 each - LOVE her clothes) But the other Macys in the area are so blah. And Macys and Nordstrom, among other large department stores, ignore their plus size customers when it comes to in store events - they are almost NEVER inclusive - the Eileen Fisher fashion show last year had not one psu size model (though they did have one over 40 so tiny progress). Brick and motar stores have to offer what online can't and so far, they are not doing that. So we'll see more and more go dark.
Charlotte Tyus says:
February 21, 2017, 10:15 pm
The way you feel about plus-sized clothing is how I feel about petite clothing. I am a 5 foot 1 inch woman who hates shopping. I can never find a good selection of petite clothing that is stylish and not old lady like. I can not afford to pay the overly inflated prices of Ann Taylor, and J Crew and Banana Republic are not made for the over 30 crowd that isn't a size oo - 4. It seems that if your are larger than a size 8, they try to fat shame you. I am at my witts end. My wardrobe needs updating and I just can't find anything I need that makes me feel good when I put it on.
Jennifer says:
December 10, 2017, 11:31 am
Hey Ladies, I work on a hot urban discount line both regular and plus size. Sold in discount retailer as that is where people are shopping now. Would love to collaborate with you.
Tyler Dahl says:
January 22, 2018, 10:37 pm
Looks like I'm a little late on this post but I love the depth of this article, especially where you went into what makes you physically shop vs. online shopping. Definitely more of an online shopper myself. Great article!