Limited stores closing for good

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As Carla Sofronski and her 7-year old daughter Rianna Miller walked past the Limited at Oxford Valley Mall late Sunday, the duo couldn't help but stare at the darkened space with a metal gate over it.

The store was completely emptied out, a shell of what it used to be - a shop known for professional attire for women that offered stylish blazers, slacks and skirts.

 

Just like that, the Limited clothing company closed its stores like the one in Langhorne around the nation by this weekend.

In this case, the Internet fully accelerated the closures, and where the Columbus, Ohio-based company  said it would  shift its resources. Starting Monday the Limited will continue to operate online only.

"That doesn't surprise me," said Sofronski with daughter in tow in front of the shuttered store. "It's just so much easier to shop online. Even with coming here today with a return, it took 40 minutes at the customer service line at Macy's. No one has time for that."

Still, for many the announced closures came swift and rather unexpected. As recent as last week, the Langhorne store had been offering steep post holiday discounts of 50 percent or more and there were no signs posted that closures were imminent.

In the Philadelphia area, the once-popular women's clothing store, founded in 1963, had already closed in nearby malls, including the King of Prussia Mall and the Montgomery Mall in North Wales.

On Saturday afternoon, calls to the Limited at Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne went directly to an automated voice message that said the number had been disconnected and no further information was available.

According to the Limited's website, the closest store to Philadelphia that was still open Saturday was at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Monmouth County, central Jersey. A woman who answered the phone there said Saturday was its last day.

A Limited spokesman told the AP that the company operated about 250 retail stores in 2016 and that about 4,000 jobs, including seasonal and temporary ones, would be lost.

The Limited is owned by Sun Capital Partners, a private-investment firm.

Department stores nationally are facing the one-two punch of declining foot traffic in malls and the increasing growth of e-commerce sales. This past  week has been  particular brutal as the reality of less than expected holiday in-store sales began trickling in below Wall Street expectations.

On Thursday, Sears announced the closure of 108 Kmart and 42 Sears stores, while the day before Macy’s finalized 68 of the 100 stores to be shut down this year.

"For most operators in the $168.4 billion department store industry, many store locations have become more valuable as real estate holdings than functional retail outlets," said retail analyst Madeline Hurley at IBISWorld Industry.  "Additionally, as same store sales continue to decline and e-commerce sales expected to rise 12.2 percent this year, many operators will shift their focus to their online segment in order to stay afloat."

The impact appears to be sparing no malls - even those in well-to-do neighborhoods.

On Sunday, the former Limited space, between Ann Taylor Loft and Bath & Body Works at Oxford Valley Mall, looked out of place in the otherwise mostly occupied mall.

sparmley@phillynews.com

@SuzParmley

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