Another blow for malls: Brookstone is closing

Woman using smartphone and holding shopping bag while standing on the mall background

Brookstone filed for bankruptcy and will close its remaining 101 mall stores.

The mall and airport seller, best known for massage chairs, quirky gadgets, and travel luggage, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court on Thursday. It was Brookstone’s second bankruptcy filing in four years.

The company will keep its 35 airport stores and website open and running while it attempts to find a buyer. It has secured a $30 million loan to finance operations during the sale.

Brookstone’s CEO said in a statement that its airport and online businesses were successful, but an “extremely challenging retail environment at malls” forced the company to close its stores there.

Unabated traffic losses at malls have plagued brick-and-mortar sellers. Mall vacancies reached a six-year high last quarter as a wave of stores closed, including Walgreens, Bon-Ton, Sears and Kmart, Best Buy, Kay and Jared, Mattress Firm, and GNC.

“They’re trapped in hundreds of these B and C malls, whose traffic has been in serial decline,” said Mark Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “Where they are in triple-A malls, they’re faced with very high rent.”

In 2014, Brookstone filed for bankruptcy and was sold to a Chinese consortium for $136 million. At the time, Brookstone operated 240 stores.

The company, which started in 1965 with a classified ad in Popular Mechanics magazine, struggled to implement a digital strategy as shoppers found more places online to buy speakers, headphones, and tech tools they used to only be able to find at Brookstone.

“The category is Amazon bait,” Cohen said. “They lost the thread of newness, innovation and excitement.”

Steven Schwartz, Brookstone’s former chief merchandising officer and interim CEO, called Brookstone’s decline “heartbreaking” in a phone interview last week.

“We were an amazing store company, but we didn’t have our eyes on the ball the right way digitally.”