The sudden closing of Parker School Uniforms stores across the country – including one in Wichita – has left area private schools and families wondering where they’ll find school clothes for their children.
“We were just as surprised as anybody,” said Jeny Mash, assistant manager of the Parker Uniforms store in east Wichita, which closed its doors Wednesday.
“We were notified yesterday that our corporate office was shutting down all of our store locations and distribution, and all employees were terminated,” she said. “We found out the same time everybody did.”
Mash’s mother, Jann Kouba, has managed the corporate-owned school uniform store – the only one in south-central Kansas – for 40 years. It supplied the plaid skirts, khaki pants and other pieces required by Catholic schools and most private schools in Wichita and dozens of surrounding communities.
Calls to the Parker School Uniforms headquarters in Houston went to voice mail on Thursday, and the company’s website was not working.
A sign on the door of the Wichita store, in the Carriage Park shopping center at Central and Edgemoor, said, “This store is temporarily closed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”
Mash said corporate officials blamed the shutdown on “struggling financial concerns.”
The news was “shocking and devastating,” she said. “This was a corporate decision, and we had no say in the process and no warning. I don’t know anything about corporate’s plans moving forward.”
Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of Catholic schools in the Wichita Diocese, said schools were “in panic mode” but trying to wait for official word from Parker corporate officials.
The sudden store closing affects about 9,000 students in Wichita Catholic schools and thousands more at private schools such as Trinity Academy, which requires Parker sweaters, skirts, pants and blazers as part of its dress code.
It was unclear Thursday what would happen with in-stock merchandise at the Wichita store, or whether outstanding orders would be filled.
Most local students have uniforms for this school year, Finkeldei said. But schools often get transfer students who need uniforms, and children require new uniforms as they grow or as clothing wears out.
“Right now we’re trying to wait until we have some official word” from Parker corporate officials, Finkeldei said.
If the Wichita store remains closed, schools will have to seek a new supplier, which could be challenging, he said. The nearest school uniform store is Dennis Uniform in Overland Park, Kan.
Parker Uniforms, which operated stores throughout the South and Midwest, had between 200 and 500 employees, according to the company’s LinkedIn page.
In October, the company announced that it planned to close 15 “underperforming” stores in five states – Arizona, California, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas – as part of a “retail realignment aimed at meeting the evolving shopping needs of its customers, both in-store and online.”
In an effort to keep costs down, many schools allow simple garments that can be found at department and discount stores or online. Some private and Catholic schools, however, require plaid or houndstooth items in specific color schemes that were available only at Parker Uniforms.