Era came to end for Gottschalks

FRESNO, Calif. -- As liquidation sales kick into gear at Gottschalks stores across the western U.S., there's a question hanging in the air:

What went wrong?

From humble beginnings in the basement and first floor of downtown Fresno's Forsythe Building in 1904, Emil Gottschalk's single dry-good store grew into a respected regional chain with more than 60 stores in the western U.S.

What seemed like a solid legacy came apart amid what retail experts describe as a perfect storm -- high business costs, changing consumer tastes, more competition, ever-tighter credit and an economy in free fall.

The result: a bankruptcy filing in mid-January, followed by going-out-of-business sales to be wrapped up by mid-July.

Experts point not at management missteps, but at the very nature of Gottschalks' business to suggest executives likely could have done little to avoid bankruptcy and liquidation.

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