Mitchells looks to buy San Francisco clothier
Published 1:01 am, Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Mitchells, an upscale clothier based in Westport, wants to acquire Wilkes Bashford Co., a San Francisco-based high-end department store chain that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
"We think there's tremendous synergies, and the business has a tremendous reputation and iconic brand on the West Coast," said Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, Mitchells' vice president of marketing and co-owner.
Wilkes Bashford has a 27,000-square-foot, six-story flagship store on San Francisco's Sutter Street and another 10,000-square-foot store in Palo Alto, Calif.
Wilkes Bashford, which was founded in 1966 and carries pricy labels such as Zegna and Kiton, in the past two months shuttered locations in Mill Valley and Carmel, Calif., after weak sales brought on by the recession. Since February, it has reduced its work force from 97 employees to 65.
Mitchells would pay $4.6 million under a proposed agreement with the bankruptcy court, pending a competitive bid process to allow for other offers.
Wilkes Bashford is seeking approval of an expedited sale process under which alternate bidders would submit their bids by Nov. 23 for a Nov. 25 sale hearing, to avoid impacting the holiday season, according to court papers.
"We're hopeful it'll be acquired," said Mitchell-Namdar, adding that Mitchells has no plans to change the stores or its staff. "It's too early to tell and we have a conservative track record for growth."
"We're always open to new opportunities," said Mitchell-Namdar, who expects the retail environment to improve. "We're optimistic that things are going to turn around."
However, Mitchells, which acquired Richards of Greenwich in 1995 and Marsh's of Huntington, N.Y., in 2005, won't immediately pursue other properties until the Wilkes Bashford deal closes to focus on the California retailer's success, Mitchell-Namdar said.
Wilkes Bashford is looking forward to joining the Mitchells organization, said Wilkes Bashford, 76, the company's namesake founder, who will remain with the firm.
"I've known and admired the Mitchell family for many years," said Bashford, who remembers celebrating the opening of the Palo Alto store with the Mitchell family. "Even if we hadn't run into these economic difficulties, I think it would have been a great match for the future."
Nonetheless, the recession has been an unfortunate occurrence, he said.
"I hope we've been through the worst of it and that what we see in the stock market is a sign of a rebound because it has affected so many of us," he said.
Now is a good time for financially successful retailers to expand because the economy is beginning to get better, said Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations for the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation.
"Typically, retail has five very good years after a recession ends," he said.