Iconic Companies That Went Bankrupt or Disappeared
Companies come and go, particularly in the retail world, but it can be quite shocking when iconic companies go bankrupt and disappear. Legendary companies like Toys R Us and Blockbuster once dominated their markets and seemed invincible — but they’re just memories from the past now. A few icons quietly faded away.
Some giant companies had a miracle comeback after hitting rock bottom, but plenty of others weren’t so lucky. Let’s take a nostalgic look back at companies that went bankrupt or fell off the face of the Earth.
The best place to be on a Friday night was at Blockbuster Video — at least in the 1980s and 1990s. Families, adults and teenagers walked through rows of box office hits, trying to pick the best movies to rent and watch that night.
From the 1980s to the 1990s, Compaq was one of the big dogs in the personal computer (PC) industry. It was the first company to re-engineer the IBM PC, and it became the No. 1 seller of the PCs. However, Dell's rise hurt Compaq's profits in the late 1990s.
Low prices? Check. Ultra-trendy clothes? Check. Filed for bankruptcy? Yep, check. Forever 21 was one of the first offenders of fast fashion, producing cheap, trendy and easily disposable clothing. In the early 2000s, the company successfully recreated designer and high fashion apparel and made it accessible to everyone.
Many photographers remember Kodak for giving everyone the means to capture precious moments with yellow disposable cameras in the early 1990s. However, the company was a powerful force in the photography world since 1888, concentrating on photo printing with film. In the late 1990s, Kodak began to struggle when photographers abandoned photographic film for digital photos.
Washington Mutual, or WaMu, was America's largest savings and loan association. However, its world was turned upside down in 2008, when WaMu expanded way too fast in poor communities and issued mortgages to unqualified home buyers. The losses were huge, but things got much worse for WaMu.
RadioShack didn't just file for bankruptcy once; the electronics chain filed twice. First, the company was unprepared for the mobile phone boom. Second, the chain tried to sell merchandise online, but Amazon and Best Buy knocked RadioShack out of the running. After 11 back-to-back quarterly losses, RadioShack declared bankruptcy the first time.
Many adults spent hours reading books at Borders, one of the nation's greatest bookstores — for a while. Forty years ago, the franchise started as a family-run business, eventually growing to become a popular hangout until 2010. Some experts think the internet or Amazon killed Borders, while others believe the bookstore dug its own grave.
Toys R Us
For many adults, saying goodbye to Toys R Us was emotional because it was a farewell to their own childhood. The toy store first opened in 1948 and became the ultimate destination to buy toys, bikes, video games and birthday presents for kids well into the 1990s.
Once upon a time, Sears was a dominant retail chain that began as a mail-order catalog company in 1892. The company expanded, becoming the go-to department store for clothing, bedding, furniture, appliances and housewares. However, Walmart began to outshine Sears in the 1990s.
WOW Air was an Icelandic ultra-low-cost carrier that began operating in 2012. After reaching its one-millionth passenger and expanding to North America, it seemed as if the airline was destined for success. Instead, its demise was messy, especially for its customers.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is another company that has filed for bankruptcy more than once. It is one of the largest electric utility businesses in California and the country. California's energy crisis caused rolling blackouts and rising costs, forcing PG&E to file for bankruptcy in 2001.
One of the "Big Three" automobile manufacturers in the U.S., Chrysler fell victim to the financial crisis of 2008-2010. With $4 billion in debt, the automobile company crashed into bankruptcy in 2009. The government urged creditors to forgive Chrysler's debts, but they didn't budge.
Originally known as Long Distance Discount Services, MCI Worldcom changed its name in 1995 to Worldcom and then transitioned to MCI Worldcom in 1998. Of course, MCI Worldcom is known for more than its frequent name changes and bankruptcy. It's remembered for the fraud that auditors discovered in 2002.
Sports and outdoor enthusiasts shopped at Sports Authority for everything from activewear to kayaks, making it the largest sporting goods retailer in the nation at one point. However, its increasing debt, poor online presence and tough competition eventually led to its bankruptcy. The company planned to reorganize during its downfall, but the situation got much worse.
Payless ShoeSource was once a popular discount shoe retailer with stores around the world. In the 1980s, the company was best known for its sneakers with velcro straps. Can’t you just hear the loud ripping noises that ruled the decade? However, the retailer's popularity faded in the 2000s. It also didn't help that Payless had a weak e-commerce strategy.
For all your television and electronic needs, Circuit City was the place to go from the 1940s to the 1990s. However, the company got into hot water after Best Buy showed up in the market. Circuit City also stopped selling appliances, which was a risky move.
Thomas Cook Airlines
With a legacy spanning 178 years, Thomas Cook was once a successful travel company and airline. The first sign of the company's collapse was a loss in profit in 2018. To help the airline's struggling finances, experts advised Thomas Cook to divide the business. However, the company refused to split up the travel stores and airline.
Polaroid Corporation is best known for its toylike instant cameras that quickly printed out photos with the iconic white frames. The photo company earned $3 billion in revenue at its peak in 1991. However, the rise of digital photography did some damage and pushed the company into bankruptcy in 2001.
Founded in 1998, Pets.com was well-known for its doglike sock puppet that carried a microphone. The company sold pet supplies, but the mascot was its biggest hit. The puppet was so popular that it appeared in the 1999 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as an ad during the 2000 Super Bowl.
Known for its toasted subs, Quiznos was established in 1981. Consumers enjoyed the sandwiches so much that the chain expanded to 5,000 stores over time, making the chain one of the largest submarine sandwich shops in the country. However, its moment at the top didn't last forever.
Lehman Brothers was the fourth-largest investment bank in the nation at one point, so it's no surprise that Lehman's bankruptcy filing was also massive, affecting WaMu and even the global financial crisis. No one ever imagined the company would collapse, but due to risky housing assets and the lack of a buyer, the company fell off a financial cliff.
Founded in 1910, Levitz Furniture was the most popular place to buy furniture for every room you could imagine creating in a house. Consumers favored Levitz because they could take home brand-name furniture for a lower price. The company even had a catchy jingle, "You’ll love it at Levitz."
Remember when CDs were a hit and the only way to listen to audio samples was through a "Scan and Listen" station? In the 1980s, CDs were a new age format for storing music, but they didn't earn real attention until they outsold LPs for the first time in 1989.
With a long shelf life and tasty flavors, Twinkies have a popular — yet unhealthy — reputation. It seemed like the soft, yellow treats could never disappear. However, things took a turn for the worse for Twinkie’s parent company, Hostess. The company went into bankruptcy in 2004 and again in 2012 due to a recession, rising material costs and tough competition.
Created in 1999, Napster started as a file-sharing software service. Most users shared and downloaded audio songs. Napster's popularity rose, but artists like Dr. Dre and Metallica saw the company as a piracy site that could destroy the music industry. In fact, Dr. Dre blatantly said, "F--- Napster!"
Today, more people are delaying marriage or not walking down the aisle at all. That's bad news for David’s Bridal, a retailer that specializes in bridal apparel. The company sunk into massive debt when consumer tastes changed, and more brides wanted nontraditional dresses for their weddings.
Claire's is a teenage accessories chain, notorious for its ear-piercing service. For years, the company struggled with massive debt. Even worse, online sales were on the rise, and Claire's had a weak online strategy. As a result, the company went into bankruptcy in 2018.
Need to find a personalized gift or get something engraved? One of the best places to go for personal giftware is Things Remembered. However, the retailer has been suffering from financial woes. With a debt of $144 million, the retailer had no choice but to declare bankruptcy in 2019.
American Apparel is exactly what it sounds like: The company sells "made in America" clothing. For six consecutive years, the company has lost a lot of money. Its reputation was also damaged by its former CEO, Dov Charney, who mistreated employees. Once he was exposed, the company kicked him to the curb, but it may have been too little too late.
General Motors (GM) stared death in the face during one of the worst economic disasters in the U.S. By 2008, the company was $30.9 billion in debt after car sales went into a free fall. Consequently, GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009.