LEE, Mass. — County Curtains is likely to close, putting 175 local workers out of a job.
On Tuesday, the company released a statement saying that after several years of effort to sell it or improve sales, the board of directors is recommending a liquidation of the bedding and home decor supplier and related operations. That liquidation process needs to be approved by the more than 300 company shareholders on Oct. 4.
"This has been a heartbreaking decision, but the board is confident that it is in the best interests of our shareholders –including our ESOP and our employee participants," said CEO Celia Clancy in a prepared statement.
"The changing retail environment makes it increasingly difficult for a small, independent company to compete and meet customer expectations on price, product delivery, and product mix."
Part of the Fitzpatrick Companies, it employs 360 people throughout 21 retail locations, the main headquarters and its distribution center in Lee. A total of 175 people are employed locally, most in the distribution center with some working at the Housatonic Curtain Co. and at the retail location in Stockbridge. If the plan is approved, liquidation would start on Oct. 5 and continue for 60 days, concluding at the end of the year.
The decision comes after nearly three years of significant losses. Country Curtains has been working on a turnaround effort but has been unable to recover under competition from big-box retailers and online suppliers. Clancy's statement said it lost $3 million in 2015; $5 million in 2016; and continues to suffer similar losses so far this year.
The board of directors had worked with an investment banking firm to identify a possible buyer for the company but that was unsuccessful. The recommendation is eyed to preserve any remaining value for the shareholders and benefit the current and former employees in the employee stock ownership plan. Employees own 40 percent of the company through the employee stock ownership plan.
"Over the past 60 years, we have been blessed with the most dedicated employees, and this in no way reflects all of the hard work that they have brought every day to Country Curtains. As we continue this process, we will do everything in our power to support all of our employees," Clancy said.
The company says eligible employees will be offered severance packages and other transition support. That includes holding a job fair at its warehouse and reaching out to other nearby companies hoping to connect the workers with new positions elsewhere.
"Speaking for the family, we remain committed to the Berkshires and the well-being of our region," board Chairman Nancy Fitzpatrick said. "Country Curtains has made a permanent mark on our magical shire, and we will continue to be very proud of that."
The company was formed by former state Sen. John Fitzpatrick and his wife, Jane, in Whitman, two years before they moved to Stockbridge, and focused on signature curtains and styles. It had expanded to 22 retail locations across the nation with the signature shop opening the famed Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge that the couple bought in 1968. The senator died in 2011 and Jane in 2013.
"My parents started Country Curtains when I was 8 years old. Since then the company and my family have been inseparable," Nancy Fitzpatrick wrote in a letter that accompanied the company statement. "Today, therefore, it is heartbreaking to share the news that our board of directors has reluctantly voted to recommend to the company's shareholders that we liquidate our assets and close our doors. This was enormously difficult for all involved. Please know that our board explored every possible alternative before coming to this sad conclusion."
Fitzpatrick said since many of the company's workers are also shareholders, and the losses suffered by the company also affect them.
"Taking this step is the only way we can be certain to honor our current obligations to you, our customers, vendors and others, as well as returning some equity to you as ESOP participant shareholders," she wrote.
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