Kitchen goods retailer Sur La Table filed for bankruptcy protection late Wednesday as it prepares for a corporate sale and store closures, making the upscale cookware chain the latest retailer to buckle under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Seattle-based company expects to close about half of its 120 stores, according to CNN. Like many retailers tipped into bankruptcy after the outbreak forced them to suspend brick-and-mortar operations, Sur La Table was carrying a significant amount of debt.
Its two Minnesota stores — in Edina and Woodbury — are among those that will close next month or in September. Closing sales have already started with nearly everything discounted 10% to 30%.
In late June, the company laid off 27 employees, a fifth of its corporate staff, without severance pay. Sur La Table told the Seattle Times at the time of the layoffs that online sales have seen "record growth" since the pandemic as more people avoided restaurants and cooked meals at home — or spent time stress-baking.
Sur La Table chief executive Jason Goldberger said in a statement Thursday that the sale process "will result in a revitalized Sur La Table, positioned to thrive in a post covid-19 retail environment."
"Sur La Table will have a balance sheet and retail footprint optimized to position the company for a bright future that continues our nearly 50-year tradition of offering high-quality cooking products and experiences to our customers," he said.
The cookware chain is yet another retail standby forced to restructure during the pandemic recession. Menswear titan Brooks Brothers filed for Chapter 11 on Wednesday amid a search for a buyer. J.C. Penney, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus are among the other brands that have sought bankruptcy court protection since May.
The company filed for bankruptcy late Wednesday in New Jersey.
Business has been brisk for home goods retailers during the pandemic, according to industry analysts, even for companies tied to brick-and-mortar models such as Sur La Table. Online homeware purchases made up close to 30% of sales before the pandemic, said Joe Derochowski, home industry adviser at market research firm NPD Group. During the pandemic, they've jumped to 40% of sales.
Not every company can adapt so quickly, though, to that kind of transition of consumer behavior. In some cases, Derochowski said, demand for kitchen items during the pandemic varied week to week. Early on, consumers hoarded essential items, then moved to lunchtime appliances, such as toaster ovens, and appliances for children's breakfasts, including waffle irons, as social distancing procedures became more routine.
Eventually, consumers started shopping for items that would replicate their experience outside the home: coffee presses, milk frothers, cast-iron skillets. It takes a nimble company, he said, to be able to turn out those products as demand changes so swiftly.
"A lot of this really has blown up consumer's needs," he said. "It's blown up the way they shop. When you have stores that are closed, that's changed things dramatically. The question is how can you adapt?
"If you're somebody who is predominantly brick-and-mortar driven, predominantly solving some of life's questions — like weddings or gifts or new homes or kitchen remodels — these are things that some retailers are tied to, and now that some are being put off, that's causing a disruption. They have to find a new way to be part of a consumer's life to fill other needs."
Star Tribune staff writer John Ewoldt contributed to this report.