Why Aren’t More Department Stores Closing?

Photo: John Taggart/ Bloomberg.
Update: Yesterday, Nordstrom announced that all of its U.S. and Canada retail locations would be temporarily closing in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the 24 hours since, we've received word that both Macy's Inc., consisting of Bloomingdale's, Bluemercury, Backstage, Bloomingdale’s the Outlet, and Market by Macy’s stores, and Neiman Marcus Group, which also includes Bergdorf Goodman and Last Call, have followed suit. "Our stores will remain closed for the next two weeks, with the potential to be extended pending future evaluation of the situation," says Geoffroy van Raemdonck, CEO, Neiman Marcus Group. Both will provide benefits and compensation to employees affected by the closures.
This story was originally published on March 17, 2020.
In the weeks following the spread of coronavirus, cultural destinations all over the world closed their doors to the public in an attempt to halt the virus from spreading. And today, Seattle-based department store Nordstrom became one of them. In a company-wide email, it was announced that all of Nordstrom’s store locations in the U.S. and Canada, including Nordstrom Racks, Jeffreys, and Trunk Club clubhouses will be temporarily closed, making it the first of its kind to take widespread action regarding the pandemic. As of right now, the company operates 380 stores total, 248 of which are Nordstrom Rack stores.
While closed, Nordstrom will provide pay and benefits for all of its store employees and carry on with its normal online business operations, which in 2019, made up a third of the company’s sales. According to Forbes, the retail store currently employs roughly 74,000 people.
Manhattan’s iconic Bergdorf Goodman department store will also be closed starting today, according to a store representative. And a number of other department stores have taken steps towards closing, with Saks Fifth Avenue announcing just hours before Nordstrom that it would be closing its Manhattan flagship store on 5th Avenue, as well as its Bala Cynwyd store in Philadelphia, for two weeks. JCPenney also agreed to temporarily reduce its store hours at all of its U.S. locations. Penney’s did officially close six of its stores, but only those located in Puerto Rico, where the government mandated the closing of all non-essential retailers, according to WWD.
Saks will continue to pay its associates at both the Manhattan flagship and the Bala Cynwyd store their normal wages.
Many other department stores are remaining open for now, including a majority of Kohl’s and Neiman Marcus locations, with the exception of the latter’s Hudson Yards and King of Prussia locations, as well as three of its California locations. “We are assessing other potential closures as the situation progresses,” a rep from Neiman Marcus said
Bloomingdales and Macys, while agreeing to implement thorough sanitizing procedures, have yet to announce any plans to close down their physical locations; nor has Dillards, an Arkansas-based department store with over 250 store locations around the U.S. 
Nordstrom’s move to close down the entirety of its fleet is by far the most responsible in terms of precautions taken by U.S. department stores. “We’re taking decisive actions across the business to help protect employees, customers, and others in the communities we serve,” Erik Nordstrom, chief executive officer of Nordstrom Inc. told WWD. “The health and safety of our customers and employees remain our top priority as we continue to make decisions during this rapidly evolving situation.”
With any luck, Nordstrom, as one of the biggest players in the U.S. department store sector, will act as a catalyst for its competitors, inspiring them to take similar action to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and worldwide.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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