Judge Authorizes Liquidation of J. Peterman

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A U.S. bankruptcy court judge approved a plan Feb. 23 allowing catalog retailer The J. Peterman Co., Lexington, KY, to liquidate its assets and close its doors amid 1,000 creditors representing $14 million in outstanding debts.

After the announcement, president John Peterman was quoted as saying the company's forced closing represented "one mistake after another, including delays in store openings, soft catalog sales and an inability to pay for spring 1999 inventory."

The company stopped taking telephone orders Feb. 24, and an auction of assets is scheduled for March 5. Peterman is looking for a liquidator to run the final sales at the 13 retail outlets. In all, more than 400 employees will lose their jobs.

Anticipating a rocky road after the holidays, J. Peterman reduced its payroll expenses by laying off more than 100 employees while it sought to raise additional capital and shore up its operating costs. It halted plans to open dozens of new retail outlets. Peterman told DM News shortly after he began operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection Jan. 25 that aggressive expansion and overprospecting in its direct mail catalog operations contributed to the company's cash-flow problems.

Peterman, 57, a former sales and marketing consultant began selling Western-style dusters from the Northwest through small ads he placed in the New Yorker magazine. His business grew to nearly $60 million in sales as of last year and included home furnishings in addition to men's and women's clothing and accessories.

After attaining a certain affectionate fame thanks to a recurring characterization of him on "Seinfeld" by actor John O'Hurley, Peterman had hoped to grow the company into a $500 million national retail chain.

Robert Bolson, who spent 10 years working for J. Peterman, is planning to write a book about Peterman's rise and fall: "J. Peterman: Behind the Duster." Bolson said he harbors no hard feelings but wonders "how a company can announce an expansion with a massive rollout of new stores and then five months later announce plans for a liquidation followed by a closing of the doors for good."

Peterman also is reported to be writing a book.

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