Shuttered Forever or Transformed? 12 Storefront Businesses That Went Poof!

Shuttered Forever or Transformed? 12 Storefront Businesses That Went Poof!

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Is this about nostalgia or a MULO (multi-location) business lesson?

Probably a bit of both.

In our ongoing BOOM and BUST series, we talk about MULO retailers, restaurants, and service businesses that declared bankruptcy or became obsolete because of management issues or blindness to consumer trends and technologies.

Let’s walk down memory lane and reflect on some business categories that have evolved or become defunct.

Readers born in the digital era may see some of these concepts and think, “Huh? What’s that?”

But in doing so, they may also reflect on MULO brands that exist today that may ultimately struggle or be replaced or displaced by other types of businesses.

Mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar operations or small chains still have a chance of survival. However, they must thoroughly understand the “street fight” that has occurred with major brands and their use of hyper-local search, local community involvement, word-of-mouth, and effective digital media to help capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of today’s omnichannel consumer.

Here are a dozen MULO categories that have had to evolve (or not) to keep pace with how people get products and services.

  1. Film developing and viewing locations (replaced). Before smartphones, people had to take camera film to be processed, and drive-up kiosks (Fotomats) emerged in the 1960s and grew to 4,000 locations. Like video rental stores like Blockbuster, digital advances have made these businesses obsolete. When people need photo prints made, they simply visit MULO drugstores or order them online. And we all know how streaming media has eliminated the need for videotape rental.
  2. Independent foundation shops (transformed). The term “foundation” was used to refer to women’s undergarments. We still wear them, but the category has been morphed to include all manner of undies — from functional and hard-to-find to boudoir-friendly to male-targeted brands. Soma, Third Love, Victoria’s Secret, and Spanx are just a few of the giant companies that offer a wide range of panties, bras, thongs, boxers, and briefs (not to mention garments that change our shapes and can be worn as outside attire.) The lingerie market is projected to reach $121B in revenue by 2028.
  3. Butcher shops (transformed). Although specialty stores can still be found in some communities, most consumers now buy meat in grocery stores, and the vast majority of meat sales are packaged products. The most significant decline in butcher shops occurred in the 1990s. The good news is that employment for butchers themselves is expected to decline only slightly in the future.
  4. Bookstores (transformed). Despite a massive decline in bookstores in 2020 and the closure/downsizing of MULO brands like Borders and Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores have made a comeback.
  5. Greeting card stores (transformed). Google is filled with announcements of local Hallmark stores closing their doors. The popularity of e-greeting cards and the availability of cards in grocery and variety stores has reduced the need for card-only retailers. However, Hallmark still manufactures cards for those stores, has a media division, and owns Crayola, so their annual revenue of $4B is still healthy.
  6. Travel agency storefronts (transformed). The travel agent still fills a need for many on-the-go consumers and business travelers, despite the emergence of DIY bookings. However, brick-and-mortar travel agencies declined 60 percent between 2000 and 2020. The number of travel agency businesses remains at a respectable level — close to 170,000 businesses — and has declined only slightly since 2014.
  7. Dry cleaners (transformed). The number of laundry and dry cleaning establishments has dropped precipitously since 2002, as this chart illustrates. But creative companies like Tide have introduced a convenient franchised drive-thru model, building off their consumer brand reputation.
  8. Pharmacies (transformed). Although the neighborhood pharmacist may ultimately be a figure of the past, companies like Walgreens and CVS have taken their place. Each brand has about 9,000 locations.  Pharmacies are now found within variety and grocery stores too.
  9. Mom-and-pop “variety stores” (replaced and transformed). Woolworth, one of the original MULO “five-and-dime” stores, met its demise in 1997, the end of a 100+ year run. But Target, Walmart, and other big box stores are serving the consumers’ needs for one-stop-shopping, along with online alternatives. Although small local shops still exist, maintaining inventory, covering rents, and competing with bigger brands is difficult, if not impossible, for most business owners.
  10. Beauty salons (transformed and augmented). In the mid-1970s, chain hair care salons emerged with the launch of Supercuts and Fantastic Sam’s. The concept of MULO hair care is now commonplace, although co-working beauty studios and independently-owned salons still exist. Men’s haircare has also become a booming category. The haircare industry will hit about $41 billion in revenue in 2026.
  11. Cobblers (replaced). At one time in history, more than 100,000 shoe repair shops existed. The rise in sneaker-wearing and fast-moving fashion trends has decreased that number to fewer than 4,000.
  12. Convenience Stores (transformed): C-stores today represent a huge market segment. They have evolved from simple roadside gas stations to major retail complexes. And, as EVs (electric vehicles) become commonplace, pumps will sit alongside charging stations. This is a great example of a category that is keeping pace with travelers’ needs.

MULO businesses and investors should always keep a finger on the pulse of consumer trends and ask themselves constantly, “Is this a category that will withstand the test of time?”

Additionally, offering loyalty programs, new products and services, and competitive service delivery platforms can boost revenue and potentially slow the demise of a business.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.