Duluth-based maurices could be hit with serious store closures

Because the company that owns it is not doing well.

Maurices has more than 1,000 stores, plus a stunning new home office in downtown Duluth that more than 500 employees work in.

But the women's fashion store might be forced to close some of its retail locations because the company that owns it is really struggling now.

Maurices is owned by Ascena Retail Group, which also operates the brands Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Loft, dressbarn and Justice. On Thursday, Ascena released results from its most recent quarter and things weren't great. They struggled to get people into stores, and sales were down.

As the Duluth News Tribune reports, that led Ascena CEO David Jaffe to tell investors the plan is to close 250 stores (across all the company's brand). And another 400 could also be shut down if they can't renegotiate leases over the next two years.

Ascena has more than 4,850 stores across its brands, its earning documents say. Maurices is the biggest, with 1,012 locations. If 650 stores go, maurices likely wouldn't escape uninjured.

Maurices was started in Duluth back in 1931 by E. Maurice Labovitz. There are now a few dozen maurices stores in Minnesota, plus hundreds more around the country.

What went wrong?

It's sort of surprising because Ascena just bought Ann Taylor and Loft a couple years ago. And at the time, maurices was on an absolute roll, operating mostly independent of Ascena and with profits soaring.

But Ascena as a whole has had a rough past few months.

There were warnings signs last month when the company put out its guidance for the rest of the year, explaining sales were going to be down, the Motley Fool reported. That led to a huge drop in its stock.

Comparable sales in Ascena's value fashion category – which includes maurices and dressbarn – were down 4.4 percent after adjustments last quarter, financial records show. The premium fashion (down 5 percent) and plus fashion (minus 7.2 percent) categories did worse however.

The reasons Jaffe gave then are the same he provided Thursday.

He called it an "extremely competitive market environment," with in-store traffic continually plummeting as people look online to shop. And he expects that to cintinue into the future.

"Make no mistake, we were very disappointment with our performance for the quarter," Jaffe said, "and we must accelerate our transformation and improve execution across our portfolio."

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