Popular Chains From the 1990s That Filed for Bankruptcy 

Think about those lost Friday nights at Blockbuster or the joy of browsing aisles at Toys “R” Us. Nothing defines nostalgia quite like revisiting the iconic chains that made the 1990s so memorable. These businesses were once booming with life. But time, technology, and changing consumer trends caught up to them, leaving many unable to keep up. Here’s a look back at the popular chains from the ’90s that eventually filed for bankruptcy, reminding us how quickly things can change.


Before Netflix became the king of home entertainment, Blockbuster was the quintessential spot for weekend movie rentals. At its peak in 2004, it operated over 9,000 stores worldwide. However, its failure to embrace the streaming revolution led to a bankruptcy filing in 2010. As of 2024, just one Blockbuster store remains open in Bend, Oregon, as a nostalgic relic of the past.

Toys “R” Us

Toys “R” Us was the largest toy store chain, captivating children with endless aisles of action figures, dolls, and games. By the 1990s, it had expanded to over 1,400 stores worldwide. Financial troubles, debt, and competition from online retailers like Amazon led to their 2017 bankruptcy filing. The brand made a small comeback in 2019; sadly, it couldn’t fully revive its former glory.

Circuit City

Electronics enthusiasts flocked to Circuit City for the latest TVs and gadgets. The retailer had over 700 stores in the United States but was blindsided by the growth of online shopping and its competitor, Best Buy. Unable to adapt, Circuit City filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and closed all stores in early 2009. A new version of the brand re-emerged online in 2018 but has struggled to gain a foothold.


The demise of Borders left a void in the book retail world that many are still nostalgic about. It was a mecca for book lovers and had grown to over 500 stores by the early 2000s. The chain’s cozy ambiance and extensive inventory once set it apart, but competition from Amazon and e-readers proved too much. Borders declared bankruptcy in 2011 and shut down shortly after.

Tower Records

Tower Records was known for its extensive selection of music across genres and legendary in-store events. The chain expanded globally, reaching over 200 locations at its height. Despite its prominence, the shift toward digital music brought it down, and Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006. While it lives on in pop culture, music streaming ultimately sealed its fate.

Sharper Image

Gadget lovers remember Sharper Image fondly for its high-tech massage chairs, air purifiers, and quirky innovations. With over 180 stores at its peak, it was synonymous with cutting-edge cool. Unfortunately, rising competition and economic troubles led to the brand’s bankruptcy in 2008. The brand now focuses on online sales and catalog distribution.


Once the go-to place for electronic parts and tech gadgets, RadioShack had over 7,000 stores at its peak. The retailer struggled as consumer tech evolved, filing for bankruptcy in 2015 and again in 2017. Many stores closed, leaving hobbyists scrambling for electronic components elsewhere. Though the brand continues to exist online, it’s far removed from its former glory.

KB Toys

KB Toys was known for its convenient mall locations and enticing promotions. The company once boasted over 1,300 stores across the U.S. Financial struggles, debt, and stiff competition from other toy retailers and the rise of e-commerce led to bankruptcy in 2004 and again in 2008. Though it attempted a resurgence, it ultimately couldn’t reclaim its former popularity.

Hollywood Video

Second only to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video stood out with its colorful signage and vast selection of movies. By the early 2000s, it expanded to over 2,000 stores but struggled to adapt to the changing digital landscape. By 2010, the chain filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors for good. The rise of streaming services made it tough for traditional video rental chains to stay afloat.

Payless ShoeSource

There’s no denying that Payless ShoeSource made budget-friendly shoes accessible to millions of families through its 4,400 stores. However, a massive debt load and growing competition from online retailers led to bankruptcy in 2017. After an initial restructuring, it filed for bankruptcy again in 2019. Although it still operates in some international markets, its U.S. presence has dwindled.

Wet Seal

Wet Seal once catered to the latest fashion trends for teenagers and young adults. During its peak in the 1990s, the brand operated over 500 stores nationwide. A challenging market and stiff competition drove it to bankruptcy in 2015. Despite efforts to revive it through an e-commerce-only model, it couldn’t regain its footing.

Gadget Universe

A place where tech enthusiasts can find unique gadgets, spy devices, and cutting-edge products, that’s Gadget Universe for you. The brand enjoyed popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s. Eventually, however, high competition and low demand for niche tech items caused the brand to fold. Despite a loyal following, the brand ultimately faded into obscurity.

Linens ‘n Things

Linens ‘n Things was a favorite stop for bedding, bath, and home décor products. Growing to over 500 stores, the chain faced stiff competition from Bed Bath & Beyond and online retailers. It filed for bankruptcy in 2008, closing its physical stores the following year. And although it attempted an online comeback, the brand never regained its prior market dominance.


Bennigan’s was popular in the 1990s. Why? It’s all thanks to its Irish pub vibe, offering comfort food and drinks across over 300 locations. Unfortunately, financial mismanagement and stiff competition led to bankruptcy in 2008. Although some franchises remain, the brand’s presence has been dramatically reduced. Nonetheless, many still fondly remember the days of enjoying casual bites with friends at Bennigan’s.

Montgomery Ward

Montgomery Ward was an iconic retailer that sold everything from clothing to appliances, peaking with over 400 stores. Challenged by emerging big-box stores like Walmart and Target, it struggled financially and filed for bankruptcy in 1997. The last stores closed by 2001, ending over a century of business. Still, it remains a nostalgic name in American retail history.

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