Gap Closing Stores

A dozen of 69 locations in New England could be closed as company trims store count 18 percent

Abercrombie & Fitch. Office Depot. Radio Shack. Staples. JC Penney. Sears.

For months, Americans have seen lots of retailers in lots of sectors close or announce plans to close store.

Now Gap is the latest to join this trend, unveiling plans late Monday to close 175 stores this summer, about 18 percent of its total, as sales fell in the spring quarter 10 percent below last year’s levels and, more broadly, shoppers young and old perceive Gap to be a brand whose identity is growing murky.

“I used to shop there a lot,’’ Alex Tesson, a 14-year-old 8th grader from the Waban section of Newton, Mass., said in an interview Tuesday outside Gap’s Wellesley, Mass., store. “I think they're better for little kids, but once I got past the age of 12, none of their stuff appealed to me.’’ Tesson said he and his friends are far more likely to shop at Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, and other stores.

A generation and a half older, Catherine Skaletsky, half of the Catherine & McClure Interiors design company in Wellesley, said, “Where they used to be the number-one place to go to get your jeans, I don't think it's the number-one place to get your jeans anymore.’’

Counting sub-brands like BabyGap and Gap Outlet, Gap has 69 stores across the six New England states: 34 in Massachusetts, 17 in Connecticut, 7 in New Hampshire, 4 each in Rhode Island and Maine, and 3 in Vermont, according to the company’s store locator website. Gap isn’t saying yet which stores will close – only that Gap Outlet locations won’t be affected – but assuming stores are closed in New England in the same proportion as the rest of the country, shoppers could expect about a dozen Gap locations in New England to close starting later this summer.

“They just have too many stores,’’ said retail expert Doug Fleener of Dynamic Experiences Group in Lexington, Mass. Fleener found it significant that the parent Gap Inc. isn’t chopping store count at Gap’s discount sister brand Old Navy or the more upscale Banana Republic, just Gap-branded stores.

“This is the only brand they're really going to have to attack, because it's the one that's been struggling the most, and they really are stuck in the middle’’ as retail continues to diverge into upscale brands and aggressive discounters.

Indeed, when you ask shoppers to define what the Gap brand now stands for, the response from Kristin Poch of Wellesley was typical: “They’re sort of in the same family as Banana Republic, the same company, and Old Navy. So, I don’t know.’’

Fleener said he’s seen that same problem for Gap in countless markets. “I’m not sure Gap knows who their customer is,’’ Fleener said, “and I think that’s some of the work they have to do.’’

Gap said it hopes to offer employees at affected stores jobs at other locations nearby, but may have to impose some layoffs.

Investors Tuesday seemed to like this plan. Gap shares were up over 1.4 percent for the day, about 2 ½ times the day’s gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

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