Leslie H. Wexner has reignited an old industry debate: Are department stores dinosaurs headed for extinction?

“Department stores are irrelevant,” the chairman and chief executive officer of L Brands Inc. said at his firm’s investor meeting last week. They don’t generate near the traffic of restaurants and food establishments, or embody “the emotional content” of Apple and other concepts in the mall, Wexner said. “The average Apple store probably draws more traffic to a shopping center than any department store does.”

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