In Paramus, N.J., across the highway from the sprawling Westfield Garden State Plaza mall, hidden away on Ikea Drive where it shares a parking lot with the Swedish homeware emporium, Bed Bath & Beyond still has its lights on, even if its shelves grow barer by the day.
At the store entrance, a short escalator ride up tempts would-be Bed Bath & Beyond customers to the Christmas Tree Shops, a cluttered mess of overstock that overlaps with much of BB&B’s inventory, and meant to meet, or perhaps, steal away its shoppers with attractively lower prices.
Just out the window is the carcass of a neighbor, the fourth member of the once-bustling quad-plaza, its signage fossilizing into the face of the empty building ever since the summer of 2016 when Sports Authority stores everywhere went out of business.
Beset on all sides by threats, bad omens and even worse financial numbers, all signs seem to point to the Retail Reaper rapping next on Bed Bath & Beyond’s door.
At its last quarterly earnings report from corporate headquarters in nearby Union, N.J., executives warned that bankruptcy may be the only option after sales fell by 32 percent year over year. It was a tragic 2022 that saw former finance chief Gustavo Arnal plummet 18 stories from his Manhattan apartment to his death, just weeks after being linked to a securities fraud lawsuit that allegedly defrauded company shareholders of $58 million. In that same month, BB&B announced it was closing 150 stores and cutting 20 percent of its corporate and supply chain positions.
In December, BB&B’s inventory availability plummeted to 53 percent, down from 77 percent in June of 2022, some of the shortfall blamed on the company’s inability to pay its bills and concern grows that the chain won’t have enough cash on hand to stay in business much longer.
Since warning about its financial troubles, private equity firms have reportedly been in talks with the company about acquiring its assets, chiefly its kids-minded nameplate Buy Baby Buy, which sells clothes for infants and everything needed to parent them, and has shown significant promise in the marketplace. For the legacy retailers, however, it may just be a matter of time before the lights go out for good.
“I hope they keep it open,” said Bed Bath & Beyond shopper Cynthia Jackson, trying out a lounging chair on display in the middle of an aisle that separates bath mats and oral care goods.
“We don’t know where else to go,” her husband John chimed in, rocking and reclining on the display model next to hers. “They have everything here. We just like coming here. We’re Bed Bath fans and we hope they keep it.”
Not only are Bed Bath & Beyond’s corporate headquarters located in New Jersey; it was born in the Garden State, too.
Warren Eisenberg and Leonard Feinstein, former department store managers in New York, saw a need in the market for linen and bath goods and opened Bed n’ Bath in Springfield, N.J. in 1971.
By 1985, the chain had grown into superstore status with locations coast to coast. In 1987 it changed its name to Bed Bath & Beyond and by 2000 it had 311 stores in 43 states.
But just days before the Jacksons found delight they hoped wasn’t their last on the easy chairs at the Paramus location, bulldozers razed the Bed Bath & Beyond location in Jersey City, 13 months after it closed its doors for good.
That location at Newport, a gateway to the Holland Tunnel and the bridge between Jersey City and Hoboken, is the only spot in the area zoned for large-scale commercial retail. As such, it had its uses for the Hudson County community that fancies itself the “Sixth Borough” of New York City and tries to limit the appearance of big-box retail to the area funneling down from the New Jersey Turnpike.
The Jacksons saw this sort of thing happen in their backyard, too.
“They closed the one in Edgewater,” Cynthia Jackson said, referring to a town 13 miles from Paramus.
“That was a shame, we were close to that one,” her husband added. “We like the coupons. You get like 20 percent off.”
The Jacksons weren’t the only shoppers feeling a little bit sentimental about—and even a bit protective of—BB&B.
“I came here when I furnished my first apartment,” said Ramon Benavides. “I like it because they’ve got good stuff, the quality of certain things and the pricing as well.”
Benavides said he was going to head across the parking garage to Ikea next, but his loyalty to buying certain products at BB&B was steadfast, even if prices on some items are cheaper at Ikea or The Christmas Tree Shops.
“I get the familiar stuff I got from them—this is more kitchen based, let’s put it that way,” he said. “Over there [at Ikea], it’s more like room, room, bath stuff, but I always come here for kitchen stuff.”
Ashutosh Rana said he appreciates what he describes as the superiority of products at BB&B and the retailer’s apparent lax enforcement of first-time shopper limitations.
“We come here often,” Rana said. “One thing is that the quality of all the parts [of the store] is really good. Most of the time, if you have an email address you can get 20 percent off, which is only for first time users, I think, but these days it’s kind of easy to get an email address and that works for us most of the time.”
Rana said the superior quality of products at BB&B make it worth the trip.
“This is one of the stores you go to when you’re looking for quality and not just looking for cheap products—that’s why we come here,” he said. “When we want cheap products we go to different stores. It’s a little bit pricier here, but I think it’s worth it.”
Other shoppers came in because of news of the company’s much publicized struggles and associated clearance sales.
“No, I don’t come very often, but I heard they’re struggling,” William Phillips said. “They carry good brands so I thought I’d come in for an opportunity at something.”
Like Benavides, Phillips said he was headed to Ikea next.
“[Bed Bath & Beyond] carries name-brand goods at a bit of a higher price,” he said. “It’s the warehouse clearance event, unfortunately, that’s what brought me in.”
None of the BB&B shoppers who spoke with Sourcing Journal on a dreary Friday in Bergen County were aware of the company’s New Jersey roots, but upon learning of this factoid, John Jackson responded in a decidedly Jersey way.
“That’s more of a reason they have to stay open,” he said.