Employees and nonprofits saddened that the Jacksonville-based fashion retailing chain is calling it quits after more than a century.
It was a sad day Aug. 12 for Stein Mart Inc. staff, past and present, who faced the closeout of the more than a century-old company that made Jacksonville its corporate home since 1984.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Susan Datz Edelman the day the off-price fashion retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The company was founded in 1908.
“I am personally very sad.”
Edelman joined Stein Mart in January 1993 and left 17 years later in June 2010 as director of stockholder relations.
She now is vice president of strategic communications at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.
“I was there at a wonderful period of time when there was a lot of growth. It had its own cachet. It occupied a very special place in retail in those days.”
Edelman said she experienced the company during the height of its signature Boutique program.
The Boutique was a Stein Mart department that defined its ability to attract its core female customers who sought higher levels of affordable fashion.
Stein Mart recruited well-known women to staff the department to sell to their friends, neighbors and other customers who sought out their knowledge and fashion tastes.
“The Boutique program was special. There was an element of uniqueness and novelty,” Edelman said.
“I think that whole part of retail, unfortunately, has morphed into something different today.”
Stein Mart sells off-price designer and name-brand fashion clothing for men, women and children, home décor, accessories and shoes at discount prices.
It also sells online.
The company faced sales challenges before the pandemic and COVID-19 exacerbated the situation.
It lost almost $66 million in the first quarter and said it didn’t have the cash to continue operating. Selling off its assets could bring in $250 million that would be enough to pay secured creditors.
Stein Mart announced Aug. 12 it would close most if not all of its 281 stores in 30 states in the Southeast as well as Texas, Arizona and California.
The state with the most stores is 44 in Florida, including six in Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach.
Closing sales have begun and are final. Gift cards are good through Sept. 12.
Stein Mart Director of Investor Relations Linda Tasseff said Aug. 12 that all stores will stay open during Chapter 11 “until such time that merchandise is completely liquidated.”
“We expect this process to be completed during the fourth quarter, with all stores closing on a staggered basis,” Tasseff said.
Stein Mart’s Downtown headquarters occupies 109,000 square feet of space at 1200 Riverplace Blvd. on the Southbank, which also will close eventually.
Stein Mart laid off about half of the 340 HQ members there, including President MaryAnne Morin, as of Aug. 11.
Stein Mart filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Middle District of Florida Jacksonville Division. The case management summary said Stein Mart might seek conversion to a Chapter 7 liquidation under certain circumstances.
Stein Mart said it employed about 9,000 people – full- and part-time – as of Feb. 1. As of Aug. 1, the workforce had dropped to about 7,950, with about 2,950 furloughed.
Each store employs about 30 people, according to the Chapter 11 filing. That means Jacksonville’s stores account for about 180 jobs.
‘We were the go-to store’
Fashion coordinator Lana Kisiel has worked with Stein Mart for 33 years, including in the Boutique area. She often worked with nonprofits to put on benefit fashion shows, narrating the styles.
“Our whole community, our whole city, is saddened by the announcement, and we want everyone to know how much we appreciated them,” Kisiel said by email Aug. 12.
“We were the go-to store, the city’s own, and everyone felt like a part-owner,” she said.
The stores occupy spaces in neighborhood shopping centers rather than anchoring regional malls with the strategy to be convenient to customers, especially women.
“They always knew they could find whatever they needed, or we could help them attain the look they needed,” Kisiel said.
Kisiel said Aug. 12 she was taking calls from people “from all over.”
“I used to recruit for the special area, the Boutique department, so I have friends working all over the country in Stein Mart stores,” she said.
Kisiel said the Stein Mart associates will miss their customers – and each other.
“We want everyone to know we appreciate them and we will miss our Stein Mart family, our stores,” she said.
“We were like family,” she said, adding that for some employees, “we were the family.”
Closing a headquarters ‘never a good thing’
A statement from Stein Mart lead independent director Richard Sisisky on Aug. 12 said it was a difficult decision by the nine-member board to file for bankruptcy protection.
“Stein Mart is a treasure in the Jacksonville area. Its corporate headquarters made a significant impact on our community by providing employment to more than 500 people and contributing to many local charities,” he said in the statement emailed Aug. 12.
Kisiel said the company, led by Chairman Jay Stein, grandson of the founder, always was eager to support the community.
“He was very into helping,” she said.
For example, Stein helped friend Thomas McGehee, chairman of Mac Papers, in the mid-1980s to establish Dreams Come True, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that fulfills the dreams of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Stein Mart CEO Hunt Hawkins was long active on the nonprofit’s board.
“Stein Mart and its leadership have been at the heart of Dreams Come True since our founding,” said Dreams Come True Executive Director Sheri Criswell in an email Aug. 12.
In addition to Stein Mart executives continually serving on the board, the company provides support directly to benefit the children served by the nonprofit and their families.
“The company has also been directly responsible for the delivery of Dreams for children and for a variety of Special Times experiences through the years, including the Stein Mart Holiday Party for Dreamers and their siblings and the Stein Mart Spa Day for Dreamers and their mothers,” Criswell said.
She said that in recent years, Stein Mart funded dreams through point-of-sale donations at the stores.
“We are saddened over the effects this news will have in the lives of the amazing people of Stein Mart and our community as a whole,” Criswell said.
Having the headquarters in Jacksonville meant local decision-making about where investments were made.
That’s what Rena Coughlin, CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, said will be missed.
“I know that they were critical to a lot of important initiatives,” Coughlin said.
“And of course you saw them sponsoring events and investing back,” she said.
“Every time we lose an important community investor like that, it has big ripple effects from the folks that work there and are involved and volunteered and had the capacity to give to the organization’s strategic investments, whether it was in supporting specific nonprofits or the founder’s personal interest in giving,” she said.
“We know it’s never a good thing” when a headquartered company goes out of business.