End of an era: Circuit City closes Sunday night

Deep discounts marked the final days of the Circuit City going-out-of-business sales.

Circuit City will disappear from the retail landscape by Sunday night.

All of the retailer's remaining 500-plus stores will close by then, ending an era for a chain that began in a small downtown Richmond storefront in 1949 and later became the nation's largest consumer-electronics chain.

"Circuit City has always been here. It was the place to go before Best Buy," said 17-year-old Michelle Petersen before she shopped for CDs at the chain's store near Short Pump Town Center.

"To see a business like this go out of business is scary," she said.

A consortium of four liquidating companies has been conducting going-out-of-business sales since mid-January at Circuit City's 567 U.S. stores. They were selling off the Henrico County-based chain's remaining $1billion-plus worth of inventory at reduced prices.

The group initially thought the stores would close by late March, but sales have gone better than expected, Circuit City spokesman Bill Cimino said.

About 70 stores already have closed, he said.

Most stores have little merchandise left. And what remains is being sold at 50 percent to 90 percent off.

At the retailer's stores near Short Pump and at West Broad Street and Gaskins Road, for instance, the remaining merchandise was on shelves near the front of the store.

The stores had a few speakers, some music CDs and movie DVDs, a handful of camera batteries, and some portable hard drives. Stacks of Norton Internet security software lined the shelves at the Gaskins Road store, selling for $19.99, down from $99.99.

But the popular items -- televisions, cameras, DVD players -- were gone.

"It's a shame it has come to this," said Ken Harcum of Richmond, who picked up some items at the Short Pump store.

Shutting down Circuit City is bittersweet, said Harcum, who once worked at a Verizon Wireless kiosk inside the store.

"It's bad because you like to have your options," he said. "It is sad to see them go, because they had plenty of time to correct the situation."

Circuit City filed for bankruptcy protection in November after mounting losses and struggling to compete against Best Buy, Wal-Mart and other retailers.

In January, the chain couldn't find a buyer or get the necessary financing to keep the company operating. As a result, Circuit City eventually will lay off 34,000 U.S. workers, including about 2,000 in the Richmond area.

"It will soon be a memory," said Brian Glass, senior vice president of retail brokerage at Grubb & Ellis/Harrison & Bates Inc. in Richmond, who was a Circuit City vice president in 1985.

"Sometimes I drive by the Gaskins Road store and see few cars in the parking lot and think they could have done so many things right," Glass said.

The demise of Circuit City will flood the commercial real estate market with about 22 million square feet of retail space at more than 600 locations nationwide. Circuit City had six area stores.

Between 150 and 200 employees remain at Circuit City's corporate offices on Mayland Drive. In the next couple of weeks, that number will dwindle to about 100 and, by mid-April, another wave of workers will leave. Those who are left will wind down the chain's business affairs.

The four liquidating companies guaranteed that Circuit City will get 70.5 percent of what it paid for the merchandise. The amount could be more.

Come Sunday evening when the last customers leave, each location is to be left broom clean before the liquidators return the keys.

Harcum said he shopped at the Short Pump store yesterday because he wanted to walk through the store one last time.

"It's just very sad," he said.

Contact Gregory J. Gilligan at (804) 649-6379 or ggilligan@timesdispatch.com.

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