Two years after A.C. Moore opened a Philadelphia flagship store — hailed as a sign of a resurgent real estate market in Center City — the New Jersey-based arts and crafts retailer will close all 145 of its stores, citing the challenging market that has claimed major chains across the country.

A.C. Moore’s parent company, Nicole Crafts, said Monday that it would abandon retail operations as “part of a broader strategic plan.” The impending closures come as more consumers shop online and more than 9,000 brick-and-mortar stores will shut down this year alone, according to one estimate.

Plans for closing specific A.C. Moore locations will be released in the coming weeks, the company said in a news release. The retailer stopped taking online orders as of Monday but will fulfill existing orders.

“For over 30 years, our stores have been servicing the creative community with a vast selection of art and craft materials, with one common focus, the customer,” A.C. Moore CEO Anthony Piperno said in the news release. “Unfortunately, given the headwinds facing many retailers in today’s environment, it made it very difficult for us to operate and compete on a national level.”

Rival arts and crafts retailer Michaels plans to take over up to 40 of the closing locations next year, but the companies did not identify which ones would reopen under the Michaels brand. Michaels, the nation’s largest arts and craft retailer, will also assume the lease on an East Coast distribution center and buy A.C. Moore’s intellectual property.

Having some A.C. Moore stores reopen under the Michaels brand will “employ our valued team members in those locations,” Piperno said. Michaels has more than 1,200 stores in 49 states and Canada.

A.C. Moore at Broad and Chestnut Streets. A.C. Moore is closing all of its 145 stores, including the South Broad flagship.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A.C. Moore at Broad and Chestnut Streets. A.C. Moore is closing all of its 145 stores, including the South Broad flagship.

Founded in Moorestown in 1985, A.C. Moore’s brick-and-mortar locations stretched across the East Coast from Maine to Florida. In addition to its headquarters in Berlin, Camden County, A.C. Moore has offices and distribution centers in Moorestown, Chicago, and Ningbo, China.

There are 21 A.C. Moore stores in the Philadelphia area, including a store at 100 S. Broad St. that opened to much fanfare in 2017.

At the time, industry experts said A.C. Moore’s first urban store reflected a growing trend of big box retailers shifting focus from suburbanites to major downtown areas with growing populations. By moving into the 30,000-square-foot corner retail-billboard location, A.C. Moore was competing for national exposure already enjoyed by its rivals, experts told The Inquirer in 2017.

But the investment couldn’t help A.C. Moore avoid the demise other major chains have faced in recent years.

Not counting A.C. Moore, U.S. retailers have announced 9,083 store closures this year, compared to 4,059 store openings, according to marketing research firm Coresight Research. Retailers that announced they have closed or will close all locations this year include Payless ShoeSource, Dressbarn, and Gymboree.

“This is another example of the big retail chains that were not able to adapt over time to the change in environment in retail, and they’re now closing the doors,” said Wharton School professor Santiago Gallino, who studies the retail industry.

Still, the fact that a competitor, Michaels, is willing to take over up to 40 A.C. Moore locations suggests there is “more to the closing than simply a lack of willingness for customers to go to these stores,” Gallino added.

Nicole Crafts, the A.C. Moore owner, acquired e-commerce company Blitsy and invested in handcraft marketplace Zibbet to boost its online reach and sales, The Inquirer reported in 2017.

Those deals may have been a sign of desperation, said Abby Glassenberg, president and founder of the Craft Industry Alliance, a trade association.

“What [A.C. Moore] thought was, we’re falling behind, and we need to get online,” Glassenberg said, noting competition from e-commerce craft site Etsy.

Glassenberg said it’s difficult for brick-and-mortar craft retailers to beat online competitors on price and inventory, so many are hosting community events and offering expert advice on projects to draw customers.

“The ones who are making it are the ones that can provide more than just inventory,” she said.