AUGUSTA – Sharon Hudspeth loaded her car Wednesday with plastic shopping bags bulging with curtains from Linens ‘n Things.

On her way home to Hampden, Hudspeth got the items for a 30 percent discount at the home goods store at The Marketplace at Augusta, where a big, yellow “Going Out of Business” sign hung over the door.

“I’m not surprised, unfortunately,” Hudspeth said. “They just opened one up in Bangor and turned around and closed it. I just thought they were reorganizing and were going to keep a few (stores) open. I guess they just can’t make it in this market.”

But Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that even with the store closing, the outlook for Augusta’s retail sector is good.

He said Augusta’s 2008 retail sales through April amounted to $903 million, a 0.1 percent increase over the same period in 2007. Meanwhile, he said retail sales statewide fell 2.1 percent during the January-to-April period.

“I think the outlook is pretty positive except for the burp in the economy right now,” Thompson said.

“I don’t know the details about Linens ‘n Things, but it isn’t anything we’re not familiar with,” he said. “In any market, businesses start, they grow and they change. Some of them go out of business. Hopefully, somebody will be in there in the near future. A different type of business that’s on the up-spring, on the move. I just don’t think it means too much to the overall economy so far this year.”

Linens Holding Co., parent of Linens ‘n Things, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May and started closing its stores across the country and in Canada.

Susan Kenney, spokeswoman for the Clifton, N.J., company, said this is the second round of store closings.

Kenney said each store employs approximately 20 to 25 people, meaning that many people are likely to lose their jobs at the Augusta store.

In the spring, stores in Bangor and Biddeford closed. The remaining stores are in Augusta, Kittery and on Maine Mall Road in South Portland.

The liquidation sales began last Friday at the remaining 371 stores in 48 states. More than $1 billion of name-brand home furnishings will be sold at discounts up to 30 percent.

“Consumers will find great values on everything in the store,” said Michael Keefe, president and CEO of Hilco Merchant Resources, a liquidation company helping clear out Linens ‘n Things’ inventory.

Kenney said gift cards are still valid at the store. Coupons are not.

A team of leasing specialists is at work to find a replacement for the business, according to Roger Pomerleau, partner in The Marketplace with principal owner W/S Development, of Chestnut Hill, Mass.

W/S Development owns more than 80 open-air shopping malls throughout New England.

“They’re talking to people all the time,” Pomerleau said. “They would like to get more women’s clothing up here for adult women. They’re actively looking, so this is ongoing. They’re one of the biggest (developers) in the country.”

Merrill Huhtala of the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, said 5,319 employees – 13 percent of the work force in the Augusta metropolitan area – worked in the retail sector in 2007.

Circuit City also is considering closing at least 150 stores and cutting thousands of jobs to avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according the Wall Street Journal.

The electronics retailer has more than 1,500 locations in the United States and Canada, including one in The Marketplace.

Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb said the chain wouldn’t comment on the report.

“I’m sorry; we just absolutely have no comments on those reports,” Babb said Wednesday.

Dour forecasts are spread across almost the entire big-box sector.

According to Reuters, Target Corp. recently posted a worse-than-expected decline of 3 percent in same-store sales, a measure of sales at stores that have been open for a year or more, and warned its third-quarter earnings could miss the median estimate of 52 cents per share.

Target opened a new store in May at Augusta Crossing off Western Avenue.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. fell 12.4 percent, worse than the 9.9 percent drop in same-store sales analysts had expected. It has a retail location in Waterville.

Same-store sales at Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. fell 5 percent recently. It expects third-quarter earnings at the low end of its forecast for zero to 5 cents a share as it said it has had to mark down more of its clothing. The company operates a retail outlet at The Marketplace under the name Pac Sun.

Even discounters such as Wal-Mart and warehouse clubs such as BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. fell short of Wall Street expectations in the most recent quarter, though they are still expected to benefit as cash-strapped consumers seek out low prices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.