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Inside Gap’s Plan To Get Back Into Your Drawers

Defeat, it turns out, smells a lot like cinnamon rolls. On a Saturday afternoon in January, the cheap-caloried aroma of Cinnabon permeates New Jersey’s two-story Livingston Mall, distracting visitors from an increasingly visible reality.

The 43-year-old shopping center’s fleet of modest stores—so familiar and accessible to customers for more than a generation—are turning into a liability.

Between a lackluster Sears on one end of the mall and a Macy’s on the other, four naked mannequins and an empty metal rolling hanger are all that remain in the fresh graveyard of Wet Seal, the teen retailer that recently announced it’s shuttering two-thirds of its stores. “One day they’re remodeling, the next day it’s closed,” mutters the teenager working the cell-phone repair cart outside the store. Across the way, at anAeropostale kids’ shop, an everything must go! sign hangs in the window. “We’re closing Tuesday,” explains the girl at the register, sipping a smoothie while assembling a 200-piece puzzle. “They’re going online.” Next door is a large, empty storefront, freshly vacated by a Toys “R” Us, while at the other end of the corridor, teen retailer Delia’s, which recently announced liquidation, flaunts its own going out of business sign. “Once malls like the Livingston Mall lose competitive edge in a market, they can’t compete,” says D.J. Busch, mall analyst for Green Street Advisors, who predicts that 15% of lower- to mid-tier malls will disappear over the next decade. “Once you lose a good tenant, others will follow. Retail works that way—you follow the mob.”

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