Tuesday, January 03, 2006

And What of Chess King?

It's been said that the 80's were the decade of excess, and that was never more true in than in the explosion of specialty clothing stores on the retail landscape at the time. And while some of those stores survived until today, many fell to the fickle, stinging blade of the retail industry due to poor management and an overall lack of understanding fashion trends. One shining example of this fate was Chess King.

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

9 comments:

Dave said...

Dear God - that logo! So, so.. 80's!! Actually, the logo sums up the entire design aesthetic of this craptacular store. Maybe it's actually a masterpiece of design.

Proud to say I never bought a thing there...

neilalecrim said...

Your descriptions of the hideous clothes designs at Chess King are hilarious and spot on! The reason for my interest in Chess King is because one of my first jobs, while still a senior in high school, was working the sales floor of the Chess King at the local mall. My stint there took place in 1988 and 1989, while the chain's "culture" was still alive but starting to wane. I remember well the variety of multi-zippered leather jackets that were chained to the clothes racks; the gray acid-washed balloon pants; the ultra-thin, pastel-colored neck ties; the shirts laden with mesh, velcro closures, useless zippers and flaps and faux pockets... Employees were encouraged to wear these clothes during work and we also got an employee discount (30% maybe?) so I eventually found myself stuck with mountains of cheesy 80s clothes that I knew even the local Good Will and Salvation Army stores would have trouble selling. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20 but at the time, briefly anyway, we were the cool ones.

RockMSockM said...

Test

Steve said...

He-he-he, I loved me some Chess King back in 78-79. A year away at college cured me of that though.

VXO said...

Oh man, I love the ridiculous styles they used to have...

Great stuff. It was so completely cheesy in the most fun way imaginable.

Stevwe said...

R.I.P. Chess King. My checker-board, polka-dot, striped, button up shirt fetish has gone the way of the do-do without you.

j. massey said...

I lived for Chess King!!!!, where else could you get a pair of super tight white in the back, grey acid wash in the front jeans, and a neon blue over sized/half shirt to show off your belly button while trying to use your older brothers liscence to get into a club????? I loved it!!!!!! Miss my youth!!!!

Vance Cooley said...

I actually bought 3 shirts there. Button up in white, black and teal. The thing was, these shirts were layered on top of each other and I would mix and match. ... I didn't have sex until the mid 90's, obviously.

PopCannon said...

To "robin" (full username withheld) - It seems pretty obvious that you've missed the point of this post. Or perhaps you assume that, in order to write about the 80s, one must have unerring reverence for every single aspect of the decade. Either way, you're completely wrong.

I think we can all agree that some 80s fashion was ridiculous, which is what this post was about. One can still love the 80s and have fun memories about how silly some of it was. Your post wasn't published, but thanks for reading!