Bebe plans to close its last stores by the end of May

Women’s apparel retailer Bebe Stores Inc. said it’s closing its remaining 168 stores, the latest in a string of retailers shutting physical outlets.

Bebe said it expects “to close all of the stores by the end of May,” according to a filing the Brisbane, Calif., firm made this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The firm already had trimmed its store count to cut costs, and had said last month that it still had 134 Bebe stores in 31 states, Puerto Rico and Canada along with 34 Bebe outlet stores.

Bebe’s website lists 33 locations in California, seven of them outlet stores.

The store closures mean roughly 700 job losses in California, according to so-called WARN notices of impending layoffs filed with the state government.

Bebe also sells merchandise through its website, and the company did not indicate in its SEC filing that it has any plans to cease its online operations. A spokesperson for the company could not be reached for comment.

Shares of Bebe rose 6.4% to close at $4. Two years ago, the shares traded for more than $30.

The chain specializes in what it calls “unique, sophisticated and timelessly sexy” contemporary clothing, and its velour tracksuits and tops with “bebe” printed in studded rhinestones once helped give it a popular cachet.

But its stores have struggled with competition not only from e-commerce but also from the likes of fast-fashion retailers Zara, owned by Inditex of Spain, and H&M Hennes & Mauritz of Sweden.

Bebe lost $13 million in the six months that ended Dec. 31, the first half of its fiscal year, as its sales fell to $189.2 million, down 13.5% from the same period a year earlier. Its comparable sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, fell 7.4% from a year earlier.

Other apparel retailers that have announced store closures in recent months include American Apparel Inc., Limited Stores Co. and Wet Seal. Footwear seller Payless ShoeSource Inc. recently said it plans to close about 400 underperforming stores, including 30 in Southern California.

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