W. Bell stores in Chicago likely to close

October 20, 1990|By Cindy Harper-Evans

W. Bell & Co., a Rockville-based catalog showroom chain that has been struggling under mounting losses in recent years, announced yesterday that it probably will pull out of its far-flung Chicago market by early next year.

The company said it is far along in negotiations to sublet its six Chicago stores to an unnamed party and that "it is anticipated that some or all of these locations will be closed."

If all of the stores in Chicago do close, the 14 Bell showrooms spread through the Baltimore and Washington areas will not be affected, the company said.

Martin Pfeifer, Bell's chief financial officer, said the company is reducing its operations in an effort to return to profitability after ill-fated expansion into Houston and other strategic missteps.

"Closing the Chicago stores will help us in reducing losses, providing additional capital and reducing inventory investment," Mr. Pfeifer said.

It is unclear how the closing of up to 30 percent of Bell's showrooms will affect the buyout offer it received from Hong Kong-based Venture Link in mid-August.

That deal -- valued at $8.6 million to $10.5 million -- was expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Mr. Pfeifer said the sale is still being negotiated and that Bell's move to shut down stores has been discussed with Venture Link, but he refused to elaborate.

Bell's stock, largely controlled by the founding Bell family, closed with a bid of $1.50 and an ask of $2 in over-the-counter trading yesterday.

Bell also announced that it is planning to move its showroom in Springfield, Va., to a larger space in the recently remodeled and expanded Springfield Mall by Nov. 5.

It also said its 1991 catalog has been released and has a wider selection of jewelry, watches, cameras, electronics, housewares and giftware than it did last year.

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