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Vendors Pull Plug On Roberds

West Carrolton, OH — Roberds, the long-struggling furniture, appliance and electronics chain, has ceased operations.

The 29-year-old retailer, which has been operating under Chapter 11 since mid-January, filed a petition for closure on May 2 and has hired a liquidator to conduct a three-month-long going-out-of-business sale set to begin shortly.

President and CEO Melvin Baskin had tried to turn the ailing operation around by seeking bankruptcy protection, closing stores, laying off staff and selling or merging the business. But “despite every imaginable effort,” he said, “we were unable to pull out of Chapter 11 within the 90-day timeline we established.” He said that Roberds finally threw in the towel when major vendors were unwilling to extend it further credit and merchandise began drying up. Also forcing the issue was a U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee who last month moved to have the merchant face possible court-ordered liquidation.

Roberds will be filing monthly financial reports in the bankruptcy case, and has requested permission to file those same reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission in lieu of its regular quarterly and annual statements. Baskin said the company couldn’t predict how much cash it would raise from the liquidation of its inventory and properties, nor how much money will be available to pay its creditors and shareholders.

Roberds has temporarily closed all of its remaining stores and distribution centers in preparation for the liquidation sale, affecting some 1,300 employees in seven Ohio and eight Georgia locations. Most of the store and distribution staff will be offered interim employment with the liquidator, and Roberds has solicited the aid of its host states to provide job search assistance, the retailer said.

Losses averaging $1 million a month from January 1998 through September 1999 prompted Roberds to seek Chapter 11 protection earlier this year, and to close or sell 10 of its 24 stores, including its three-year-old, 250,000-square-foot flagship megastore in Cincinnati, OH. “It finally became a matter of company survival in a very competitive industry,” Baskin said at the time, citing a $21 million loss for the 21-month period. “We have made numerous efforts to save Roberds, but no company can sustain these loses for an extended period of time.”

In announcing the company’s demise, which he attributed to increased competition from national electronics and home improvement chains, Baskin noted that Roberds “launched a new era for the furniture and appliance industry in our markets. We responded to the needs of customers and built an operation designed around customer service. With that, Roberds will leave a powerful legacy.”

Roberds, a member of the NATM buying group, reported sales of $287 million in 1999. It ranked 82 on the TWICE Top 100 CE Retail Registry, and was the nation’s 20th largest majap dealer according to TWICE’s Major Appliance Retail Registry.