Mall operator Simon Property Group and its affiliated landlords have filed an objection to the Chapter 11 reorganization plan for Ascena Retail Group, on the grounds that the plan will involve the closure of significantly more stores than was originally agreed upon.
In late November 2020, Premium Apparel — an affiliate of private equity firm Sycamore Partners —agreed to buy the Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant and Lou & Grey brands from Ascena, which had filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. When the agreement was announced, Sycamore committed to retaining a substantial portion of both the retailers’ stores and associates, “at least 900” according to Simon’s recent court filing. Now, Simon says Sycamore is not holding up its end of the deal and is “planning to significantly reduce the business’ physical store presence in the near term,” including closing a number of profitable stores.
“The result will be a significantly less creditworthy lessee than the entity with which Simon Landlords originally contracted,” reads the filing. “The Purchaser’s significantly reduced store footprint and mix of remaining stores not only will diminish the profitability of its brick-and-mortar business, but also will hurt its ecommerce business, as a strong physical presence drives ecommerce sales and profitability as well.”
In addition to operating shopping centers across the U.S., Simon owns a number of major retailers including JC Penney, Brooks Brothers and Forever 21, a fact that the mall operator points out in its filing, saying that its concern over the deal is “supported by a depth of experience.”
Simon also makes a point of calling out the fact that Premium Apparel is a newly formed entity and that parent company Sycamore “has repeatedly bankrupted retailers it acquired to the detriment of their creditors,” pointing specifically to Sycamore’s investment in Nine West, which is itself the subject of a new lawsuit from disgruntled investors, and ongoing bankruptcy plans for Belk, in which Sycamore owns a majority stake.
“Against this backdrop, the recent decision by the Purchaser to close 160 of 226 stores leased from Simon Landlords — stores that the Debtors intended as recently as November to keep — gives rise to significant concerns regarding the Purchaser’s financial and operational ability to satisfy their statutory and contractual commitments,” according to the filing.