Can ABC Carpet & Home reinvent itself after bankruptcy?



The news last week that legendary New York company ABC Carpet & Home had filed Chapter 11 and was on the verge of bankruptcy was very sad indeed. There is a plan for the retailer to get out on the other side of all of this, but history shows that this is never easy and often much can be lost in translation when it returns to the land of the living.

The turnaround is particularly annoying as, not so long ago, ABC was without a doubt the most admired home furnishings retailer in the country. It was creative, it was innovative, it did things no one else did, and it had a social conscience like no other company – let alone a retailer – in the industry. To see how it fell is devastating.

For those who may not know the backstory, ABC started out on Broadway, north of Union Square, as a carpet dealer in 1897, selling all kinds of flooring – from the best of the best to, well, not the best. It went on through several generations of the Weinrib family Jerry Weinribhis daughter, Paulette Cole, and her then husband, Evan Cole, came up with the idea of ​​expanding the business into the broader home furnishings category in the early 1980s.

That extension wouldn’t just be a bunch of frying pans, couches, and sheet sets. Instead, they had the vision of a Wunderland marketplace where special products were sold in a special way. The store also took advantage of the shop-in-shop model – departments that were often rented out or turned over to keep initial investment costs down – which became the footprint of the store’s home, although carpets continued to account for a disproportionate share of overheads. Back then, for anyone in the home decor industry, a trip to New York was complete without a stop at ABC. There they found great product presentations, unprecedented lines and an atmosphere that could only be created in a 100-year-old urban high-rise. Just like Bloomingdale’s, the late Big Conran’s, and Macy’s Herald Square, all of them were must-see, so was ABC – but it was the first stop.

When Paulette and Evan went their separate ways (he eventually launched a variation on the ABC theme called HD Buttercup in Los Angeles), she took the business to a new level and added a cause marketing layer unprecedented in any retail store from this scale. By working with artisans around the world and supporting social movements in the areas of human rights, ecology and health, ABC assumed a spiritual role that went well beyond the mere sale of goods.

That’s not to say ABC hasn’t racked up some big hits over the years. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 crippled Lower Manhattan for years, and it didn’t start coming back until the 2008 Great Recession rocked the upscale consumers who frequented stores like ABC. These Wall Street bonuses bought many living rooms … until they didn’t. The pandemic was the last straw. Even as the brand downsized its space, sold real estate, eventually started selling online, and curtailed its non-local activities in general, it wasn’t enough. The store went from a must-have to a gee-i-forget-them-gee-i-forget-her for a generation who shopped online, visited tiny Williamsburg stores, and ditched the complex decorative looks that defined ABC.

And now it’s in the hands of the lawyers and the judges. Cole says she intends to move on, buy the retailer out of bankruptcy, and maybe do things a little bit differently without the weight of a bad record. And she just could. I’ve known her for 30 years and she is one of the smartest, most dedicated, and sincere people you will ever meet. However, we all know how difficult it is to revitalize retailers. Certainly, the track record suggests that more has failed than successful.

Even so, you shouldn’t bet against ABC or Paulette Cole. She created one of the most amazing retailers the industry has ever seen, and she could do it again. But it won’t be as easy as ABC.

Photo of the homepage: A vignette from ABC Carpet & Home | Courtesy ABC Carpet & Home



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