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Forever 21 is in talks to give landlords a stake in bankruptcy plan

Forever 21 store
The first Forever 21 store stands in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood.
(Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times)

Forever 21 Inc. is in discussions to give a stake in the company to its two largest landlords as part of a restructuring that would also let co-founder Do Won Chang retain a share, according to people familiar with the matter.

The ailing fast-fashion retailer is in talks with mall owners Simon Property Group Inc. and Brookfield Property Partners about the proposal, which would be part of a bankruptcy filing, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter. The negotiations could end without a deal, they said.

Los Angeles-based Forever 21 is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as this month, ideally with a restructuring plan in place, the people said. Company advisors have been working on obtaining a bankruptcy loan package that would give the retailer about $75 million to continue operations during the case, Bloomberg previously reported.

A spokeswoman for Brookfield declined to comment on its involvement in a potential deal, and Simon and Forever 21 didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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The trendy retailer’s fate has become increasingly important to mall owners, which have seen former stalwarts including Payless ShoeSource Inc. and Gymboree Corp. shut more than 8,500 stores this year, according to market research firm Coresight Research Inc. That has left Forever 21, with more than 800 stores globally, as one of U.S. malls’ largest remaining occupants.

Nearly a decade ago, before Instagram influencers existed, Forever 21 helped teen girls dress like their favorite celebrities, for cheap.

At the same time, the retailer is dependent on its landlords, which could play a key role as Forever 21 looks to slim down operations and revive its best locations. The restructuring plan under discussion could include rent forgiveness or other considerations from the landlords in exchange for a stake in Forever 21, the people said.

Simon and General Growth Properties Inc., now part of Brookfield, teamed up to buy most of bankrupt teen clothing chain Aeropostale three years ago. They have since sat on the sidelines as retailers liquidated, but Simon has publicly said it is open to doing similar deals.

On a July 31 conference call with investors to discuss second-quarter earnings, Simon Chief Executive David Simon said his company was well positioned to invest in distressed tenants.

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“We certainly have the ability to help beyond what you might do on the leases and become an investor in a distressed situation,” Simon said. “So we have kind of the ability, together or individually or some combination thereof, to look at becoming more than just a real estate player, but a buyer of these brands.”


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