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Anchor Blue Retail Group, owner of Anchor Blue, the California clothing chain offering casual apparel to teens, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday and announced plans to close nearly 50 stores, including three in the Sacramento region.

Anchor Blue stores will close at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, Sacramento Gateway in Natomas and County Fair Mall in Woodland. Anchor Blue's stores at Arden Fair and the Westfield Galleria in Roseville will stay open.

A spokeswoman for the Southern California company said Wednesday the stores would close in several weeks after a series of sales.

"The downturn in traffic at malls has affected the company's business," said spokeswoman Susan Kenney.

The company selected "underperforming" stores to shutter as a way to reorganize the chain back to financial health, she said.

Anchor Blue Retail Group also owns 74 Levi's & Dockers Outlet by MOST stores, one of which is at the Folsom Outlet Mall. San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. has filed an agreement to purchase those stores.

Anchor Blue, with its decidedly youthful appeal, was founded in 1972 and grew to 177 stores in 12 states, offering jeans, T-shirts, sunglasses and shorts, the epitome of Southern California living for young wallets.

The store's flight from area shopping centers takes with it a significant demographic, particularly for malls with a struggling retail mix, such as the Woodland mall.

"It's critical to lose anything now," said Wendy Ross, Woodland's economic development director. "It's a teen store, and that's important."

The 460,000-square-foot Woodland mall, which opened in 1985, lost key anchors when Mervyns closed last year, followed by Gottschalks' announcement that it plans to shut, too.

Woodland has offered incentives, such as reduced fees, to help the mall lure new retailers, Ross said.

At Sunrise Mall, the vacancy rate is less than 10 percent.

"To lose any store is tough," said Kristi Keene, a spokeswoman for Steadfast Co., owner of Sunrise Mall. But, she said, "We're doing fairly well at Sunrise."

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