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10 Franchise Brands That Did Not Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic was particularly destructive to small businesses, but the mass shutdown of 2020 even pushed some of America’s most iconic brands to the brink.

By Carley ChanaContributor
Updated 9:09AM 05/25/21

2020 showcased a plethora of bankruptcies, restructurings and closings, which led to thousands of businesses closing up shop.

And for brands with small margins, weak brand presence or the inability to pivot, the pandemic left them particularly vulnerable. Below are 10 franchise brands that did not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specialty’s Café & Bakery

Specialty’s Café & Bakery was founded in 1987 and operated more than 50 cafes in California, Washington and Illinois. Specialty’s was a counter-serve chain cafe that served baked goods & light breakfast and lunch options. After shelter-in-place policies decimated company revenues, stores were forced to close. It announced all locations would be closing effective May 19, 2020.


In 1978, bartender Dennis Jay opened the first Souplantation in San Diego, but the company ceased operations May 8, 2020. Souplantation was an American-based chain of all-you-can-eat, buffet-style restaurants. There was no way the restaurants’ longtime self-serve model could survive in the era of COVID-19.


The tween clothing brand was founded in 2004, but after plummeting sales in 2020, it closed all brick and mortar stores over the course of the first few months of 2021. Justice was known as the one-stop shop for on-trend styles in tween girls' clothing. Prior to COVID-19, sales were already decreasing, but the pandemic decimated the brand’s hopes for revival.


In May 2020, the car rental company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but remained in business as it restructured its debt. The company was founded in 1918 but could not fare when the crisis hit. As travel industry demand dried up, particularly among the business travelers who are essential to Hertz's rental business, Hertz could not afford to make a full payment to lenders.


The mid-range clothing company was founded in 1938, but after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the retail industry, it decided to close all stores over the course of 2021. Unfortunately, after stay-at-home orders significantly lowered the brand’s sales numbers, sales plummeted to an unrecoverable point.

Van Heusen

The clothing store was founded in 1881 and offered a wide variety of stylish men's and women's dress shirts. Stay-at-home orders decimated sales, and all stores are closing prior to July 2021.

Pet Valu

Pet Valu offered everything to keep pets safe, happy and healthy, including food, treats and supplies or services like grooming and adoption. Founded in 1976, the pet food and supplies chain shut down its U.S. stores and warehouses in November 2020 after stay-at-home orders decreased sales numbers


As the cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and months of lockdowns destroyed the economy, Sears continued to close stores, and there was no end in sight. What was once more than 3,900 stores is now under 30.


After a devastating year, GNC, a dietary supplement chain founded in 1935 that sells health and wellness products, including vitamins, minerals and herbal supplement products, declared bankruptcy in April 2020, closing 800 stores. The brand struggled to push through the economic impacts of the pandemic.


Gordmans was a chain of Midwestern off-price department stores founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1915. The retailer filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 and announced it would be closing all stores after the brand could not shift quickly enough to the online model.