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Bernie’s Exits NATM; Senior Execs Depart

Bernie’s, the New England electronics, appliance and furniture chain, has withdrawn from the NATM Buying Corp., where it has been a longtime member of the 11-dealer buying group.

According to NATM president Bill Trawick, the company did not attend International CES last week in Las Vegas, nor did it participate in the group’s annual meeting at the show.

Separately, Bernie’s president/COO Mike Honeyman has left the company, along with marketing and merchandising VP John Schlenner and a number of the chain’s buyers.

Honeyman, whose contract expired on Jan. 2, said he has not been actively involved in the business since early November. Schlenner announced his departure from Bernie’s at the end of December.

The two were the highest-ranking executives under CEO Milton Rosenberg, who has a majority stake in the family- and employee-owned business.

The company also ceased taking online orders last week and, according to Connecticut daily newspaper The Day, is no longer accepting charges on its private-label credit card, issued by GE Money Bank.

Rosenberg did not respond to calls from TWICE.

Bernie’s operates 15 big-box stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. According to TWICE’s Top 100 Retailers Report, it sold approximately $63 million in CE in 2008, up 1.6 percent from the prior year, and had $53 million in major appliance sell-through.

NATM’s Trawick called it a “tragedy” that a company of that size is struggling, and described the situation as an unfortunate sign of the times.

The retailer was founded as a gas station in 1947 by Rosenberg’s father, Bernie. The company was bought by Newmark & Lewis in 1985, and was re-acquired six years later by Rosenberg, who re-built Bernie’s from a two-store operation into a regional chain with plans to expand into Boston and beyond.