Christopher & Banks CEO Barenbaum Abruptly Departs

The struggling retailer, which also announced the departure of a senior vice president, has appointed President Joel Waller to the position of CEO until a permanent replacement for Larry Barenbaum has been found.

Struggling women's apparel retailer Christopher & Banks Corporation said late Friday afternoon that CEO Larry Barenbaum has resigned, effective immediately.

The Plymouth-based company also announced that Joel Waller-who came on board in December as president-will assume the role of CEO until a permanent replacement for Barenbaum has been found. The company's board has formed a committee to commence a search for a new chief executive.

“We thank Larry for his service as chief executive officer during these challenging times and for his many years on the board and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Paul Snyder, chairman of the board, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Joel as chief executive officer and, on behalf of the board, am confident that Joel will provide a smooth transition as we search for a permanent chief executive officer.”

Waller told the Star Tribune that he didn't play a part in Barenbaum's exit and had “no interest” in the CEO job. The Minneapolis-based newspaper reported that Waller declined to comment on the specific circumstances of Barenbaum's departure and said “I can't answer that question” when asked if the board fired him.

In addition to Barenbaum leaving, senior vice president and general merchandise manager Jules Rouse is also no longer with the company, Christopher & Banks said.

Christopher & Banks reported a net loss of more than $22 million for the fiscal year that ended in late February 2011. Between late February and late August, the first six months of the following fiscal year, the company's net loss totaled $11.1 million. In November, the retailer said that it would shutter about 100 underperforming stores and consolidate some others-a move that was expected to result in roughly 800 to 1,000 layoffs.

According to the Star Tribune, Christopher & Banks had its sights set on a recovery based on a renewed focus on merchandising. The company recruited Morris Goldfarb, CEO of clothing designer and manufacturer G-III Apparel Group, to join its board in early 2011-and it reportedly brought back Rouse, who launched the CJ Banks Brand in 2001.

However, Christopher & Banks' new clothing lines got off to a rough start, the Star Tribune reported. Barenbaum reportedly acknowledged that customers weren't willing to pay higher prices for some of its clothing, and he recently told analysts that such resistance had led to “heavy promotions and deeper discounts.”

Waller, who told the Star Tribune that he took his job because Barenbaum was a friend and asked him to, also told the newspaper that he doesn't anticipate any additional significant store closings or layoffs.