Struggling teen and women’s clothing retailer Wet Seal is closing two-thirds of its stores, including two plus-size stores in the Valley.
Recently opened “Wet Seal +” stores that catered to plus-sized customers have already closed — one in the Clovis Crossing Regional Shopping Center and the Visalia store at 4021 S. Mooney Blvd. in the Packwood Creek West Shopping Center. The Clovis store was empty Wednesday afternoon, with only hand-written signs on the doors saying “We are closed.”
Employees confirmed that the other Visalia location selling regular sizes at Visalia Mall will remain open, as will the River Park and Hanford Wet Seal stores.
It was unclear if the Fashion Fair store would remain open. The store was open at lunchtime Wednesday, but employees declined to answer questions about its future. Neither Fashion Fair mall management nor a representative from Wet Seal’s Orange County-based corporate headquarters could be reached for comment.
In a news release Wednesday, the retailer said it is closing 338 stores effective “on or about” Wednesday, Jan. 7.
The retailer, which sells trendy but affordable clothing, footwear and accessories for teen girls and young women, said that it decided to proceed with the store closings after looking at its overall financial condition and because it wasn’t able to negotiate meaningful concessions from landlords. The closures mean 3,695 full and part-time employees are losing their jobs.
The Valley was home to one of Wet Seal’s big experiments — opening the Wet Seal + stores. The first two stores in the nation opened here selling only plus sizes. But the concept apparently wasn’t successful enough to keep the stores open.
The closures are a loss for local shoppers looking for plus-sized clothes, said fashion blogger Amanda Valdez, of Fresno, who runs the plus-size blog Fashion, Love & Martinis and has more than 24,000 followers on her YouTube channel. She has partnered with the retailer for events in the past and reviewed its products.
“The plus-size fashion market is underserved, especially when it comes to an in-store shopping experience,” Valdez said. “It’s disappointing that the Wet Seal Plus stores are no longer because it gives Valley shoppers one less readily available shopping option.”
Wet Seal will continue to operate 173 stores and its online business after the closures.
River Park spokeswoman Tracy Kashian said Wednesday that she was told some changes may be in the works for the stores, citing a conversation between a River Park manager and a Wet Seal district manager shortly before the holidays.
“They were going to change direction of the age of clothing they were going for,” Kashian said. “They were filling in the gap between Justice and H&M and they were going to go more toward an H&M age, a little bit older demographic.”
Wet Seal publicly warned in December that it may file for bankruptcy.
“This was a very difficult decision to make, but after reviewing many other options since I returned to the company in September, our financial condition leaves us no other alternative than to close these stores,” CEO Ed Thomas said in a statement.
Thomas came back to Wet Seal as CEO after John D. Goodman resigned from the post. Thomas previously served as president and CEO of Wet Seal from October 2007 to January 2011.
The abrupt closures inspired push back from employees in Seattle, where workers posted a giant handwritten yellow poster in a Wet Seal store window that went viral across social media. The poster complained about the one day’s notice employees were given, lack of opportunity to transfer to other stores and unpaid sick and vacation time.