Baraged with news of bankruptcies, including Fortunoff, Searle, Mervyns, Harold’s and Steve & Barry’s, and the closure of boutiques like Linda Dresner, Georgina and Tracey Ross, retailers sat at fashion shows trying to figure out how to buy under the most trying circumstances many say they’ve ever experienced. Consumers, it appeared, had gone on strike.

By early March, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had plunged below 6,600, its lowest point in nearly 12 years; the U.S. unemployment rate hit 8.1 percent for February, its highest rate in 26 years. Major stores were suffering monthly sales declines and worrying about cash flow, and cost-cutting at the retail and wholesale levels had become standard operating procedure.

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