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Closing of Catherines, Avenue leaves few Long Island stores for plus-size women

Marisa Armstrong, an assistant manager at Lane Bryant

Marisa Armstrong, an assistant manager at Lane Bryant in Levittown, which offers up to size 28 in-store. Photo Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

For Long Islanders, plus-size clothing stores are becoming a thing of the past. With national retailer Avenue shuttering its 11 Long Island locations and another plus size chain Catherines closing its doors in Carle Place, Long Island women who wear a size 24/3X (or higher) say they are facing a devastating reality when it comes to shopping, one that leaves them feeling like they’re at a disadvantage.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m upset,” says Rosemarie Duggan, 54, a medical assistant from North Bellmore. “For my body type, I need to try things on. I can’t buy things online because I might not like the way things look on me. Then I have to send them back and it’s a big pain.”

While plenty of department stores and other national chains offer plus-size clothing within their stores (generally starting at size 16), there are only a few brick-and-mortar stores for women above a size 24. Catherines offers sizes 16-34 and 0X-6X at its remaining Long Island store in Patchogue, while Avenue sells up to size 32. Then there's Lane Bryant, which still has several retail stores (although its sizes top out at 28), and Torrid, which has three Long Island locations that stock up to size 30. Women say the closings of some of the few places on Long Island that served larger women is disconcerting as they provide a communal place for those with similar body types and challenges.

“I miss being able to go somewhere for us,” says Kerry McDonnell, 39, a teaching assistant from East Norwich, who favors Avenue for its more generous range of sizes. “When I used to walk into Avenue, I felt like I was in a club. Years ago, I felt self-conscious shopping for clothing, but then I realized everyone is there for the same thing."

Ellen Rubin, 63, a retired teacher living in Melville, says the timing of the store closings on Long Island couldn’t be worse.

“I have been shopping at Catherines for many years because it was the only store that would carry my size,” she says. In May she began losing weight and looked forward to being able to shop at Avenue. When she went down to a 32, she was thrilled to be able to have some choice of stores — then came word of the closings. “When you find a place where you’re comfortable you know it’s always there for you," she says. "Now what are we left with?”

Exclusively plus-size retailers might be closing "because many brands feel like women over a size 24 are not shopping,” says Marcy Cruz, the blog editor for PLUS Model Magazine who's based in Forest Hills. “They have this image of us in their minds that we don’t want to dress nice, that we have low self-esteem, that we don’t want to be seen." Representatives from Avenue and Catherines did not respond to requests for comment on the closings.

Long Island women looking for formal wear can still shop at Queen of Hearts, a formal wear store in Merrick that exclusively carries sizes 16-32. Owned by Julie Marchesella (herself a size 22/24 who also models her own looks), Queen of Hearts has adapted dresses up to a size 36. But unless women are in need of an outfit for a black-tie event, they’re still at a disadvantage when it comes to finding everyday clothing.

Alexis Krase opened plus BKLYN, a consignment boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyln, for women sizes 14-30 when she realized she had few options and that online purchases often fit poorly. “It’s terrifying for me that all of these other businesses are closing,” she says. “At the same time, my business is growing, so maybe there’s something to the fact that we have a different business model that focuses on resale.”

Some national clothing chains offer a larger ranges of sizes online, with the option to return merchandise to store locations rather than incur more shipping fees. McDonnell says she shops in-store for clothing at retailers such as Target and Walmart that have a plus-size section, but finds the selection problematic. "The stuff on their mannequins always looks nice, but they hardly ever actually have it in the plus sizes because they run out,” says McDonnell. "I feel out of place when I go someplace that doesn’t [specialize] in larger sizes.”

For Cruz, the lack of a broader range of sizes in traditional stores spells a mixed message. Companies "want to be inclusive and focus on body positivity, but they seem to think plus sizes stop at a 24 and they really don’t," she says. "You say that you want to dress all women, but what happened to me?”

SHOPPING PLUS

While they don't specialize in plus-size clothing, many department stores and retail chains offer extended sizes — typically limited in-store, but more abundant online. Most retailers offer free in-store returns of items purchased online.

KOHL'S Offers up to size 4X and 26W online.

LOFT Offers tops and bottoms through size 26 online; its West Babylon location carries plus sizes in-store.

MACY'S Tops and bottoms through size 4X/28W available online.

OLD NAVY Offers through size 4X online.

TARGET Offers sizes 14W-26W in-store and 14W-30W online.

WALMART Has plus sizes from XS to 5X and bottoms through size 28 online.

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