Central Hardware Stores in St. Louis Sold

Article excerpt

The owners of the Handy Andy Home Improvement Centers chain in suburban Chicago have agreed to pay $79 million to buy bankrupt Central Hardware Co.'s stores in St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn.

If approved, the deal would give the Handy Andy group a second chance to run the St. Louis hardware chain.

Already the largest investor in Central's parent company, the Handy Andy group had controlled a much larger Central prior to its filing for federal bankruptcy protection in March.

Since then, Central has closed 19 stores in five states and laid off about 1,800 employees.

In the proposed deal announced Monday, A-OK of Delaware Inc., which owns Handy Andy and owns 45 percent of Central's parent company, would buy Central's remaining 11 stores in the St. Louis area and five stores in Memphis.

Central's four stores in Columbus, Ohio, and a sister company, Witte Hardware Corp., are still up for sale and are not part of the deal announced Monday.

Neither is the company's headquarters-and-warehouse complex in Boulder Industrial Park in Bridgeton. It apparently will close - threatening more than 200 jobs.

Central; Witte, a hardware distributor; and Spirit Holding Co., the parent company of Central and Witte, all entered bankruptcy in March.

The bankrupt companies owe about $140 million to their banks and about $50 million more to suppliers.

Handy Andy officials said Monday that they intend to retain most of the employees at the St. Louis and Memphis stores. About 900 people work at the St. Louis stores and about 400 in the Memphis stores.

"I think this is very positive for the employees in the St. Louis and Memphis markets," said Neil A. Marglous, Central's president.

The Central stores will be managed from Handy Andy's headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., said Handy Andy spokesman Scott Seligman, who works for the Burson Marsteller public-relations firm in Chicago.

"The stores will be part of Handy Andy, but still called Central Hardware," Seligman said.

The headquarters complex in Bridgeton will not be part of the purchase, Seligman said. About 170 people work at Central's headquarters and 38 in the warehouse. Marglous said Central's office and warehouse employees probably could apply for positions at the stores.

Meanwhile, Central officials are still trying to sell Witte and the Columbus stores.

Marglous, who took over as Central's top executive just three days before the bankruptcy filings, said he is still trying to buy Witte. Marglous, whose great-grandfather founded Central Hardware in 1903, is a longtime Witte executive who has been its president since 1982.

The purchase price for Witte is expected to be about $20 million. Based in St. Louis, the hardware wholesaler employs 325 people, most of whom work at its warehouse in Vandalia, Ill.

If Marglous' deal falls through, however, Witte probably will be closed and its inventory sold. The company has not attracted interest from other bidders wishing to keep it open.

In Columbus, a Chicago-area auto-parts distributor is trying to buy Central's four stores. Those stores employ more than 300 people.

David Carmell, owner and president of Apex Automotive Warehouse L.P. of Northlake, Ill., said his company would seek to convert the Columbus properties into combined auto-parts and hardware stores.

"We think we will have a very unique concept not being done anywhere else," he said. …