We are more and more everyday walking through the canyon of fallen giants, retail giants whose bright, gleaming store fronts used to line the double laned streets and routes of suburbia. These jewels of sprawl that have made living far off the beaten path seem less so have begun to shutter. Retailers like Circuit City, Linens and Things, and now Fortunoff have filed for bankruptcy and are now going or gone from the map, leaving depressing building shells, and only the footprint of those signs remaining to anyone who drove past what once existed.
The workers will remember though, laid off, thrown into the deep end of a seemingly endless pool of other workers, clawing and climbing over each other for whatever meager scraps this economy will throw to them. They above the share holders, and the unpaid vendors, are the truest victim of these closures, but there is one other victim that unlike the vendors will see no relief from the proceeds of bankruptcy and liquidation, even though they have in the case of Fortunoffs paid out over $8.5 million dollars in gift cards and in previously bought merchandise that has been returned, the value of which given back in the form of store credit.
Gift card and store credit holders are a much maligned and ignored group in the bankruptcy process, with any and all kind of store credit usually being banned from use as tender within hours of a stores decision to close their doors. Blocked from utilizing their credit and with little to no recourse, gift card holders have usually no choice but to accept that they have been fleeced. A recent decision to allow Fortunoff gift card holders the ability to utilize those cards until March 8th was progress, but serves merely as a small olive branch.
What is needed is a more cemented approach, a mandate that requires the bankrupt companies, or their assigned liquidators to allow for gift card holders to assemble and register their credit owed becoming a cooperative of consumers that can be counted as not only a creditor, but a preferred creditor, receiving repayment for the lost value of their credits before most other vendors and creditors. For too long the retail industry has kept this dirty little secret hidden in the shadows, but the time has come to compensate everyone that a debt is owed to. If not as a matter of fairness, then as a matter of reinstilling confidence in shoppers who might at this point be reconsidering gift card purchases, choosing instead to give cash, and in such harm the vital November and December holiday sales Retailers rely so heavily on.