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Department store chain Belk files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, private equity firm Sycamore to take control

Belk department store

John Greim | LightRocket | Getty Images

The department store chain Belk announced Tuesday afternoon it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, marking the latest mall-based retailer to do so as its sales have dwindled and challenges have accelerated during the Covid pandemic.

The North Carolina-based retailer said it has entered into a restructuring support agreement with its majority owner, private equity firm Sycamore Partners, along with the holders of more than 75% of its first-lien term loan debt, and holders of 100% of its second-lien term loan debt.

The plan, Belk said, is to recapitalize its business, slash its debt burden by roughly $450 million, and extend the maturities on all of its term loans to July 2025. Sycamore will retain majority control of Belk as part of the agreement, it said.

The company said it has received financing commitments for $225 million in new capital from Sycamore, KKR and Blackstone, along with some of its existing first-lien term lenders. The retailer said that it plans to keep paying its vendors and that all normal business operations will continue during the restructuring process.

It hopes to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the end of February.

“We’re confident that this agreement puts us on the right long-term path toward significantly reducing our debt and providing us with greater financial flexibility to meet our obligations and to continue investing in our business, including further enhancements and additions to Belk’s omnichannel capabilities,” Belk CEO Lisa Harper said in a statement.

America’s department store operators — including Belk and its nearly 300 stores primarily in the Southeast — have struggled as consumers are not frequenting malls as often and are buying less apparel during the pandemic.

Last year, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Stage Stores and Lord & Taylor filed for bankruptcy. The latter, the oldest department store chain in the nation, ended up liquidating and closing all of its stores. Penney narrowly escaped that same outcome after U.S. mall owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners acquired it.

Sycamore, a firm that specializes in consumer and retail investments, also recently purchased the Ann Taylor, Loft, Lou & Grey, and Lane Bryant women’s apparel brands out of bankruptcy from Ascena Retail Group.

Here’s the full press release.

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