Fashion Bug Closing ShopNORTH ADAMS - The Fashion Bug here is being squashed by its corporate parent, putting 10 people out of work.
An anchor in the downtown's L-shaped mall for 24 years, the women's clothing store will close its doors by the end of January along with another store in Northampton.
Store manager Lida Watters said employees were officially informed last week of the closing. They had heard rumblings of possible closings as the last quarter ended but after several weeks, thought they were safe.
"They didn't give us a reason," said Watters, but she noted the North Adams store hadn't been included in a round of renovations at other area shops. "I think they looked at the the cost of renovations, and the lease is coming up."
What struck her, she said, was how quickly the store was ordered to close. "Usually it's three to five months but they told us we have to close at the end of January."
Mayor John Barrett III said he had been aware the store might close since last summer. The company had never applied for new signage after the exterior of the mall was refurbished earlier this year, he pointed out. While its neighbors have new signage, Fashion Bug is still using a temporary banner. "I was told they probably would not keep the store here past January."
He said he had spoken with the owner of the plaza, Neil Ellis of Hartford Realty, about the store's departure.
"Neil Ellis told me emphatically that they would have something similar in there," said the mayor. He pointed to Ellis' ability to pull in good tenants like Peebles and Staples.
The store is owned by Charming Shoppes Inc., based in Bensalem, Pa. The company also owns the Lane Bryant and Catherine store chains. Five years ago, the company closed or converted 121 Fashion Bug stores. It also discontinued its Added Dimensions/Answer chain and its 77 stores.
Calls to corporate headquarters were not immediately returned, but the company reported a loss of $3.6 million at the end of the third quarter and 4 percent drop in sales from the previous quarter.
In a press release last month, Dorrit J. Bern, chairman, chief executive officer and president, put the "disappointing performance" to a general downward sales trend "which both we and our industry experienced."
"Our fall selling season had a very slow start, particularly at our Lane Bryant brand, and we expect the holiday season to be highly promotional throughout our industry."
The company listed 1,004 Fashion Bug and Fashion Bug Plus stores, 923 Lane Bryant and outlet stores, 471 Catherines stores, and 55 Petite Sophisticate and Petite Sophisticate Outlet stores in November.
Watters blamed the economy in general for the closure, with which Barrett agreed.
"This has nothing to do with this area and the business [this store] did. They were doing well, Peebles is doing well," he said. "It's about the company."
"I'm sad to see it go. It was a major part of the L-shaped mall for a long time."
It also wasn't happy news for the 10 part- and full-time workers, said Watters, who has been with company 12 years and this store nearly 10. Even if some might be able to find a spot in the Pittsfield and Bennington, Vt., stores, transportation is difficult, she said.
Watters was trying to remain cheerful.
"I've got to laugh or I've got to cry," she said. "And I'd rather laugh."