One of those companies is Linens 'n Things. The home goods retailer sold off its assets and intellectual property after filing for bankruptcy in 2008. But Etlin said if given more time, it likely could have found a buyer.
Instead, the study found that among the 16 retail filings over the last 18 months, only one — Brookstone Holding Corp. — successfully reorganized. By comparison, 10 of the 16 resulted in liquidation, and five were sold.
Adding to the headache is another change to the law, which Etlin said gives "administrative priority" status to vendors' claims for the value of goods sold in the 20 days preceding a bankruptcy. That change is what ended up doing in Circuit City a few years back, as it resulted in $350 million in claims.
In addition to rewritten bankruptcy legislation, a few other factors have changed the face of retail filings, Rosen said. For one, a "very robust" market of liquidators has emerged during the past three years, meaning firms are competing to run retailers' going-out-of-business sales.
Because of this competition, liquidators have offered close to or in excess of 100 percent of the purchase price of a retailer's inventory — making it tempting for lenders to take their money and run, Rosen said.
Another shift is the type of companies that are lending to retailers. Rosen pointed to surfwear brand Quiksilver, which filed Chapter 11 in September. It's working with hedge fund Oaktree Capital, which will likely use its position to gain control of the company.
"Previously when a JPMorgan Chase or Citibank or LaSalle would threaten to shut a company down, wise guys like me would say to the bank, 'Be careful what you ask for,' … knowing the last thing Chase wants is to own and operate a retailer," Rosen said. "But hedge funds are perfectly comfortable owning and operating a business."