Ann & Hope to close its Curtain & Bath Outlet stores permanently

Updated at 5:03 p.m.

CUMBERLAND – Ann & Hope Inc. announced Monday that it will permanently close its 11 Curtain & Bath Outlet stores in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut due to the “significant economic impact” the home-décor retail company sustained from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ann & Hope said it will start its going-out-of-business store sales July 9 and expects each of its Curtain & Bath Outlet stores to close by the end of the summer. The future of Ann & Hope’s Garden Outlet locations remains to be seen and discussions on those outlets are ongoing, the company said.

Ann & Hope’s impending closure also comes close to three years after another Rhode Island retail staple, Benny’s, closed all of its 31 stores in the region. Diane McCrohan, associate professor in the College of Business at Johnson & Wales University, told Providence Business News Monday that smaller retail stores in the state are unable to keep up with the larger big-box retailers, such as Walmart Inc. – especially in an economic crisis that the pandemic has caused. Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, studied Ann & Hope’s operation in the 1961 and applied it to his own retail venture.

“[Big-box stores] have more money behind them and can withstand not being open for three months,” McCrohan said, “whereas a smaller retail [store] cannot survive that. That’s what we’re seeing now.”

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In addition to seeing smaller retailers closing, larger retailers are not immune, McCrohan said. Retailers, such as The Gap, Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co., Victoria’s Secret and J. Crew, are expected to close several locations because of lack of sales. Malls, where many of these stores are located – some being anchor operations for these shopping centers – could be severely impacted, McCrohan said.

“Some of the nonperforming stores are being closed and retailers are having trouble filling that space, because retailers are not expanding right now,” she said. “So, the mall owners are having trouble filling that space. Before, they were able to get someone new into the mall. That’s not happening.”

The Valley Breeze had previously reported that Ann & Hope Operations Manager Cindy Boulet said rumors swirling around Ann & Hope’s demise were untrue and it had no plans to shutter operations despite a recent downsizing. Three Massachusetts stores had already closed, the Breeze reported, and eight locations remained.

However, Ann & Hope Corporate Vice President Ron Dore said in a statement that after looking at all of its available options, it “became apparent that it was inevitable” that Ann & Hope, regarded as the first self-service department store in the U.S. after it opened in 1953, would have to close down.

“The unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 public health crisis, combined with more consumers gravitating toward online shopping alternatives, has created a retail environment that is simply no longer sustainable for many locally owned businesses like ours,” Dore said. “We want to express our sincere gratitude to each of our associates, whose day-to-day dedication to making the shopping experience special for our millions of customers over the years has helped build Ann & Hope into the unique company we will always be proud of and always remember.”

The decision for Ann & Hope to close its Curtain & Bath Outlet stores comes close to two months after Ann & Hope co-founder Irwin J. Chace died at the age of 93.

Ann & Hope had 300 full-time and part-time employees working at its stores, according to Providence Business News’ 2020 Book of Lists. The company said it intends to retain employees “as long as business permits” and will make an effort to “introduce its associates to area businesses with employment opportunities.”

(ADDS paragraph’s 3-6 with comment from McCrohan.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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