On March 6, women’s clothing retailer Charlotte Russe announced that it would be closing all 500 of its stores nationwide. My heart sank as I scrolled through their website and read the official notice. My favorite store was closing and I knew I had to say goodbye.
There are two Charlotte Russe locations just outside Chicago, one in Lincolnwood Town Center and the other at Old Orchard Mall. Approaching the storefront in Lincolnwood Town Center, I’m bombarded by final sale signs, behind them a desolate room of what used to be.
Charlotte Russe and I shared so many milestones together. In fact, I had celebrated all of my birthdays from 13 to 18 years old at store 301 in Cherryvale Mall. I was always in awe of the magnificent wall of shoes, endless accessories and trendy window displays. Every year my mom would ask me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I’d never hesitate to blurt out, ‘Charlotte Russe!’
As I enter the bare storefront, I’m greeted with a warm smile and a “Welcome to Charlotte Russe.” Everything is for sale, even the fixtures. In fact, there are more fixtures for sale then clothes. I managed to find a few items that catch my eye and I head to the fitting room.
Nothing beats the feeling of walking to the fitting room with ten pounds of clothes in your arms. The associates would always greet me with a smile as they led me to the back. Little did they know, a fashion show was about to begin, starring me. But, today was different — it felt bittersweet as I was escorted to the back.
In my early teenage years, I wanted nothing more but to work at Charlotte Russe. After getting my driver’s license, I picked up a job application. Two weeks later, I was a sales associate picking outfits for everyone who walked in. I knew everything about the store, like when our shoes were “buy one, get one $10” or when our illusive happy hour sale was among us.
Here I worked my first ever Black Friday, showing up to work at 4 a.m. back in 2013. What a rush it was as we opened the flood gates, letting in hundreds of people and watching the line wrap around the store.
It was a very different scene at Lincolnwood Town Center, as the employees outnumbered the customers. I watched as a pair of young men bought and rolled out a display rack.
“We own a vintage clothing store online and can use this to hang our stuff,” said Jake Fernandez.
It humbles me to know that the remnants of what’s left can be recycled for new beginnings at places like Fernandez’s store, Distorted Vintage.
In college, Charlotte Russe dressed me for countless formals, themed parties, last minute get-togethers and several job interviews. The five-dollar sale rack was my savior, and to this day I still own several pieces that I consider staples in my closet.
As I try on some shoes, a fellow shopper tells me there are more options at Orchard Mall just down the road. Like me, Rubi Zepeda had been shopping at Charlotte Russe for over 10 years. She was able to get a nice haul of jeans, which she expressed was important for her because Charlotte Russe had a great plus size selection.
“I would hope to say not goodbye, but see you later,” said Rubi. “Hopefully they can come back bigger and better. They will always have a loyal customer base with me.”
It was a different scene at Old Orchard Mall. The walls were lined with jeans, just like Zepeda said. There seemed to be a rush to the fitting room as moms, teens and young women beelined to the back with arms of jeans in tow.
When Alexandra Ferreras heard of the store closings, she rushed in for the low prices. Unlike Rubi and I, Alexandra wasn’t a brand fanatic but knew she had to come in for its prized possession of high-waisted jeans. She walked away with four pairs for $10 each.
“I just want to say thank you,” said Alexandra. “You can be fashionable for a really low price and they have been here for years.”
I bought my first pair of heels at Charlotte Russe and so, appropriately, I thought I should leave with another pair. A pair of size six, strappy nude heels are now sitting in my closet, waiting for spring to be debuted.
As I left Charlotte Russe I couldn’t help but flashback to all of my memories at store 301 in Rockford. The smell of their iconic perfume, Refuge, the five for $12 panty sale (take that, Victoria’s Secret!), the wall of two for $10 jewelry and, of course, the bumping tunes. Thank you for the many firsts and iconic looks that lasted throughout my college years. Many, like Rubi and I, are hoping it’s not a definitive goodbye, but a see you later.
Header image by Melody Mercado, 14 East