"Gap will always carry on
Something is lost, but something is found
They will keep on speaking its name
Some things change; some stay the same"
-- Apologies to Chrissie Hynde for mangling "Hymn to Her"

Look, Gap (NYSE:GPS) may be out of fashion today and even fading toward irrelevance. But it's still the second-largest apparel retailer in the nation, going by sales -- and that's if we count Federated Department Stores (NYSE:FD) in the same league. That's proof of the brand's value, but it's also a signal that it needs to be saved before irreparable damage is done.

I'm by no means suggesting that the entire company be dismantled and forgotten, sold off in piecemeal fashion for a quick buck. My esteemed opponent Rick lays forth a few ideas for how the chain's fortunes can be turned around, and I happen to agree with several of them. But he also notes that it won't -- and shouldn't -- be easy. Well, it can be. At the very least, the process would be less painful for the company and its investors if done off the open market.

Getting the party started shouldn't be too hard. Rumors abound of a 25% buyout premium to today's share price, and I'm willing to bet that most shareholders would take that deal in a heartbeat. That would mean a total price tag (enterprise value plus buyout sweetener) in the neighborhood of $17 billion. It's large for a leveraged buyout, but it's not a record by any means. Hospital chain HCA was taken private for $21 billion last fall, and Motorola's (NYSE:MOT) spun-off semiconductor arm, Freescale (NYSE:FSL), is awaiting closure on its $16.2 billion leveraged buyout. There's even talk of taking Home Depot (NYSE:HD) private for about $100 billion. That's a freakin' big deal, Mr. Bigglesworth. A Gap buyout would be a fairly routine transaction these days.

And then the real work can begin, as I outlined in my opening statement. Private companies can cut CEO deals that a public company's owners -- you and me -- wouldn't find very agreeable, so going private would help in landing that big-name, bigger-ego talent that Gap needs. That superstar has to roll up his or her sleeves and start doing some potentially unpleasant things to the retailer. Store closings, layoffs, spinoffs, walk-offs (hey, you need to show off those new product lines), you name it. It's the sort of thing that could send share prices through the floor, making Gap an easy target for less well-intentioned takeover specialists.

Again, I agree with Rick that none of this will be easy. The one assessment I disagree with is that sandbagging observation -- I would assume that Paul Pressler tried his best to turn things around, and it just wasn't working. There's no guarantee of a free and easy 15% rebound under new management.

Really, Gap needs to stay public about as much as we need another Brady Bunch sequel. Take it private, do your dirty work, and then come back if you like. We'll wait with brass in pocket.

Further Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, but he often wonders what happened to the new air force, the bridge, and the orange kingdom. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always worth fighting for.