Shoppers won't be picking up ornate lamps from the Bombay Co. in the coming year. Or investing with Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. No flying to Hawaii on Aloha Airlines or buying ultracheap tickets on Skybus, either.
All those names vanished last year, victims of the economy, the financial meltdown or other factors. Experts say 2009 could mark the end of even more well-known brands as the now-yearlong recession puts more struggling companies on life support.
"I think 2009 is going to be a blood bath," said Scott Testa, a marketing professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "I think it's going to be very, very ugly."
The woes of the nation's retailers began before the year even started. The Bombay Co., known for its home accessories and furnishings, filed for bankruptcy in late 2006 and closed the last of its stores in January because of slow sales. Travelers bid adieu to some airlines in 2008 as jet fuel prices soared and consumer spending on extras like travel plunged. Aloha, ATA, Skybus and Champion Air all grounded their planes.
Bear Stearns was headed toward collapse in March, awash in massive losses from toxic securities tied to subprime loans, before the government engineered a fire sale of the 85-year-old investment bank to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
And the credit crunch that paralyzed the world economy only got worse after Lehman, a 158-year-old company that helped finance America's railroads, became the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history.
With sales and profits dropping this year and lenders leery of granting new credit, a number of retailers failed. Home goods seller Linens 'n Things began liquidating its stores after originally filing in May for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Apparel chain Steve & Barry's did the same later in the year. Specialty retailer Sharper Image also vanished.
Of all the brands to disappear in 2008, Testa said, consumers may miss department store chain Mervyns most. "That's a brand that's been around for a very long time," he said. Mervyns said in October it would have to liquidate after filing for bankruptcy protection in the summer.
The store's faithful shoppers will probably seek out new places that have the brands and prices they want -- or may just stop spending if they don't find a replacement, said Rita Rodriguez, head of the U.S. division of the Brand Union, which helps companies create brand identities.
Beyond the brand names customers will no longer see, people may find many familiar businesses looking different. Retailers may operate far fewer stores or sell their goods only online. Circuit City Stores Inc., the nation's second-biggest electronics retailer, is closing more than 150 stores and laying off thousands of employees as it keeps operating and tries to restructure under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
After Bear Stearns' collapse, several other financial companies were able to stay alive by becoming subsidiaries of healthier banks. Washington Mutual, for example, was bought by JPMorgan Chase. The new owner plans to rename Washington Mutual's branches.
The shakeout this year will give sturdier brands a chance to shine and set them apart from their less-than-prosperous counterparts, experts said.
Testa said the strongest stores would use the downturn to get stronger. "The really smart companies, when things are bad, take the opportunity to really grow their brand," he said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Here's a list of some of the biggest brand names to go out of business in 2008:
Mervyns filed for bankruptcy protection in July and began liquidation sales at remaining stores.
Linens 'n Things filed for bankruptcy protection in May. It announced liquidation sales at its stores in October.
Steve & Barry's filed for bankruptcy protection in July, then later said it would liquidate.
KB Toys filed for bankruptcy protection before Christmas and has begun to liquidate its stores.
The Bombay Co. declared bankruptcy in September 2007 and shut its stores by last January.
Sharper Image Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in February and closed all its stores.
Woolworths Group in Britain put its nearly century-old retail business into administration.
BANKS OR INVESTMENT FIRMS
Bear Stearns Cos. was bought by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in March in a deal orchestrated by the government.
Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. reported a $4-billion loss, then declared bankruptcy in September, the largest ever in the United States.
ATA Airlines filed for bankruptcy April 2 and ceased operations the next day.
Aloha Airlines shut down passenger service in March, shortly after filing for bankruptcy.
Skybus Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection in April.