The news last week that New York’s legendary ABC Carpet & Home had filed Chapter 11 and was about to be taken to bankruptcy court was indeed very sad. There is a plan in place for the retailer to come out on the other side of it all, but history suggests that it is never easy and that a lot can often get lost in the translation as it reappears in the world of the living.
The turning point is particularly upsetting, as not so long ago ABC was arguably the most admired home furnishings retailer in the country. She was creative, innovative, did things no one else did, and had a social conscience like virtually no other company – let alone a retailer – in the industry. Seeing how he fell is overwhelming.
For those who may not be familiar with the full story, ABC began life in 1897 on Broadway, just north of Union Square, as a carpet merchant, selling all kinds of flooring, from the best of best until, well, not the best. He passed through several generations of the Weinrib family until Jerry weinribthe daughter of, Paulette Cole, and her then husband, Evan cole, came up with the idea of expanding the company to the broader furniture category in the early 1980s.
This extension wouldn’t just be a bunch of frying pans, sofas, and sheet sets. Instead, they had a vision for a wonderland market where special products were sold in special ways. The store also used the shop-in-shop model – departments that were often leased or consigned to reduce initial capital costs – which became the imprint of the home side of the store even as rugs continued to take a toll. disproportionate share of the market. overhead. Back then, no trip to New York was complete for anyone in the home furnishings business without a stop at ABC. There they found amazing product displays, lines they had never seen before, and an atmosphere that could only be created in a century-old multi-story urban building. Much like Bloomingdale’s, the late Conran’s and Macy’s Herald Square were all must-sees, as was ABC, but this was the first stop.
When Paulette and Evan went their separate ways (he eventually started creating an ABC-themed variation called HD Buttercup in Los Angeles), she took the business up a notch, adding a layer of cause marketing without precedent in any retail business of this scale. Working with artisans around the world and supporting social movements for human rights, ecology and health, ABC took on a spiritual role that went far beyond simply selling merchandise.
That’s not to say ABC hasn’t taken big hits over the years. The 9/11 terrorist attacks crippled lower Manhattan for years, and it was only beginning to return when the Great Recession of 2008 shook up high-end customers who frequented stores like ABC. These Wall Street Bonuses bought a lot of living rooms… until they didn’t. The pandemic was the last straw. Even though the brand shrunk its space, sold real estate, eventually started selling online, and generally scaled back its non-local business, it wasn’t enough. The store went from being a staple to a gee-I-forgot-them for a generation that shopped online, visited tiny Williamsburg stores, and ditched the intricate decor looks that defined ABC.
And now it’s in the hands of lawyers and judges. Cole says she intends to continue, buying the retailer out of bankruptcy and perhaps doing things a little differently without the weight of a bad track record. And she might. I have known her for 30 years and she is one of the brightest, most dedicated and genuine people you have ever met. That said, we all know how difficult it is to reincarnate retailers. Certainly, the track record suggests more failure than success.
Still, you shouldn’t bet against ABC or Paulette Cole. She’s 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.
Front page photo: A thumbnail of ABC Carpet & Home | Courtesy of ABC Carpet & Home