Starting a business and remaining profitable is tough in a dog-eat-dog world. You can build a better mousetrap and be king of the hill and an instant millionaire. But the moment someone else builds one better or cheaper than yours, you can end up in bankruptcy court.
Some of America’s most iconic brands, those that seemed to be unstoppable in their heyday, are no longer with us.
What follows is Newsmax’s list of the 10 most iconic brands that eventually failed, in alphabetical order.
B. Dalton Bookseller (1966-2013)
This one slightly edged out Borders Books, which had a slightly shorter lifespan and 517 locations compared to Dalton’s 798 at its peak.
Barnes & Noble eventually acquired Dalton’s in 1999, but despite its 100-plus years in the business, couldn’t turn the company around. At the time it was liquidated in 2013, B. Dalton was down to 50 stores. Death by Amazon?
Although only in operation for 27 years, Blockbuster was one of those companies that seemed to attain iconic status overnight simply because you couldn’t drive through a town or neighborhood without finding a Blockbuster store.
Each location was identified by its distinctive logo, a torn, off-kilter blue theater ticket with the word "Blockbuster" printed in bright orange block letter.
They specialized in home entertainment, renting movies and video games to the public, and in the beginning seemed to keep up with technology.
They began by renting video tapes of popular films. Then when laser disks came along, which vastly improved both the video and audio quality, they rented both the laser disks and laser disk players. When DVD’s replaced LDs, they rented films on DVD.
But when video streaming services like Netflix came along, customers realized they no longer had to take the time to drive to the store, make their selection, then return it in time to avoid the penalty.
Circuit City (1949-2009)
This one began life as the Wards Company, and really took off when it rebranded as Circuit City Stores in 1984 and became the first consumer electronics superstore.
But, as Forbes reported, the company died due to a series management blunders. For example, "it built stores in poorly trafficked sites. It stopped selling appliances. It was slow to see trends in consumer electronics. Its online presence was unimpressive."
Forbes concluded that Circuit City was "beaten by the recession, its own knuckleheadedness, and the far more strategically gifted Best Buy."
Howard Johnson’s (1825-2017)
Howard Johnson’s got its start as a single ice cream stand outside Boston, Mass., then grew to over 1,000 restaurants, each sporting a distinctive orange roof. They were located along major highways and interstates, making them an ideal eatery for travelers.
Howard Johnsons gained a reputation for consistent quality at a reasonable price, and still maintained its roots by offering 28 flavors of ice cream.
In the 1950s the restaurant chain added motor lodges at nearly 300 of its locations.
The chain was sold to Marriott in the 1980s, but the restaurants were shuttered — all but one. The Lake George, N.Y. restaurant closed its doors in 2017.
There are a lot of U.S. carmakers that folded, notably Mercury, Plymouth, and Studebaker. But the one with the longest lifespan was Oldsmobile, which died at the age of 106.
Ransom E. Olds founded the company in 1897, and in 1901 the Curved Dash Oldsmobile debuted — the first of the line. Knowing the good thing that Olds was, General Motors bought out the brand in 1909 to add to its growing stable.
Oldsmobile enjoyed a loyal following for decades.
But Oldsmobile's popularity eventually waned despite introducing new models like the Toronado, the Intrigue and the Alero, and GM voted to halt production in 2000.
In 2004 the final Oldsmobile — an Alero — rolled down the assembly line.
Robert Hall Clothes (1937–1977)
Begun in 1937 in Waterbury, Conn., its founder Jacob Schwab reportedly "plucked the name out of the air."
It was known for its "big box" no-frills merchandising with simple pipe-racks displaying the clothes, and offered free alterations. A mid-20th century boy’s first suit or sport coat was more-than likely identified with the Robert Hall logo on the left inside pocket.
Its undoing was its insistence on American-made clothes, tailor-made, at a reasonable price. Outlets like K-Mart soon undercut them by offering "off-the-rack, ready to wear" clothes manufactured elsewhere.
Tower Records (1960-2006)
This mega-music chain was founded in 1960, near the beginning of the rock ’n’ roll era in Sacramento by Russell Solomon.
If there was a song or artist you were interested in, chances are you could find it at Tower Records, where dozens of America’s youth could be seen flipping through records.
And if you were unsure, its knowledgable staff was there with a ready answer to your question.
Its undoing was a combination of heavy death prompted by the onslaught of the digital music age. Death by iTunes.
Tower Records was relaunched in 2020 but as an online merchant only. The sight of a bevy of teenaged girls intently searching for the perfect 45 is but a fading memory.
Toys "R" Us (1948-2019)
This iconic toy store chain suffered much the same fate of many other brick-and-mortar retailers — inability to compete with online retailers like Amazon, as well as discount retailers like Walmart and Target. But that only tells part of the story
The chain was also saddled with billions in debt from a leveraged 2005 buyout. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was shuttered the following year. Toys R Us is trying to make a small comeback — but not as a stand alone store. Macy’s announced that it will open a Toys "R" Us department at select stores beginning in the fall.
Trans World Airlines (1930-2001) (73)
Trans World Airlines (TWA) was founded in 1930, and really took off after the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes took control eight years later. TWA and Pan American (Pan Am), founded three years earlier, were considered the true pioneers in the commercial airlines industry — the standard by which all others were measured.
PanAm was unable to recover from the 1970s-80s recession and the 1988 terrorist bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and closed operations in 1991.
TWA was able to hold out another decade, and suffered its own serious disaster. TWA international flight 800 exploded and crashed in 1996 shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport.
In 2001 TWA was acquired by American Airlines after it filed its third bankruptcy.
Woolworth’s (F. W. Woolworth Company) (1879-1997)
Woolworth was one of America’s first five-and-dime stores, having opened in 1879 in Utica, New York, calling itself the "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store.” Woolworth’s grew during most of the 20th century to become one of the most successful retail chains in the United States. What baby boomer hasn’t dined at a Woolworth’s lunch counter at least once in their life?
Woolworth’s eventually spread into Canada, Great Britain, and Germany, and built the Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan, which was the world’s tallest building from 1913 to 1930.
In its later years Woolworth’s struggled with the advent of shopping malls, and as other flashier chain stores became more popular.
In 1997, it closed its doors for good.
Michael Dorstewitz is a retired lawyer and has been a frequent contributor to Newsmax. He is also a former U.S. Merchant Marine officer and an enthusiastic Second Amendment supporter. Read Dorstewitz's Reports — More Here.
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