For the uninitiated, Chess King was NOT a store for chess players or chess afficianados. Nor was it a store specializing in clothing WORN by chess players. In fact, one could say that anyone shopping at Chess King probably lacked the intelligence to play a game of Chess, but that's neither here nor there. The store was a specialty clothing outlet that sold men's and women's lines of "faux-upscale" 80's designer wear. More specifically, the cheesiest, sleaziest, ugliest and most eye-searing 80's clothes you could possibly find. Velcro closures? Check. Mesh designs? Check. Excessive use of leather? Check. Odd-colored thick v-neck sweater vests? Check. Just think of any tacky 80's trend, and then spin it as "upscale." That's Chess King.
At the start of the decade, Chess King was a part of the Melville corporation, a conglomerate that also owned such retail properties as CVS and Thom McAn. Throughout the early 80s, the store was responsible for outfitting sleazoid bar-hopping womanizers, wanna-be coke dealers, and various guys who pretended to be record executives. By the mid 80s, any "culture" the chain once had began to dissappear, and the only people bold enough to step foot into Chess King were men who enjoyed excessive hair gel, wore several gold chains, drove Monte Carlos and fancied themselves as don juans/mob enforcers. With such a fantastic clientele, whatever happened to the King?
The 1990's happened, that's what. When they saw that the only people shopping at Chess King were walking punchlines, Melville, Inc. finally got a clue and decided to take action. In 1993, they sold the failing brand to then retail magnate Merry Go Round Enterprises (MGRE). At the time, MGRE held the bands Merry-go-Round, Cignal, Dejaiz and Attivo (among others), and apparently felt that the slowly dying Chess King would be a great addition to their star-studded cadre of clothing failures.
Anyone see where this is going? By the end of 1993, Chess King (as well as many Merry-Go-Round stores) was losing money hand over fist--It had already began to vanish from many major U.S. city mall landscapes. To make matters worse, the 90's had crushed the once happy world of specialty clothing stores. It was survival of the fittest: if you weren't the Gap or Express, hit the road. MGRE couldn't stem the tide, so they did the inevitable: They filed for chapter 11 in January of 1994.
Within one year of doing so, it became clear that eliminating brands would be the key to surviving. First victim? Chess King. In November of 1995, MGRE closed all of its Chess King stores, and announced rather optimistic plans for emerging from bankruptcy with profitibility. We'll stress that word, "optimistic," because quite the opposite happened.
In 1996, after several hundred changes in company leadership, Merry-Go-Round Enterprises decided to call it quits. They liquidated all their assets, and laid off all of their employees, thereby effectively killing any chance of ressurecting any of their retail brands. No more Cignals. No more Merry-Go-Round. No more Dejaiz. And definitely no more Chess King.
Sad? Maybe. But don't shed a tear for Chess King. Any store who took pride in outfitting men in diamond-patterned cardigans and acid-wash pleated balloon slacks deserved nothing less than a painful demise. We can only hope that this is one king that does NOT return.
· Read about Chess King's acquisition by MGRE here at Highbeam research
· Read about Chess King's elimination also here at Highbeam research
· Read about MGRE's liquidation here