W. Bell & Co., the beleaguered catalog showroom retailer based in Rockville, has informed employees that the once-popular discount chain will go out of business in the near future, closing 10 stores and leaving hundreds of workers without jobs.
A letter from Bell Executive Vice President Bernard Blum was distributed to employees earlier this week, explaining the company's decision but giving no date for the closings.
Al Volski, manager of the Cockeysville store, said today that the letter informed workers that liquidators assigned by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rockville will be visiting all stores within 10 or 20 days.
The company has been in bankruptcy proceedings since last December.
Volski said he expected the company's stores to close not long )) after the liquidators finish tallying the stock.
A Bell employee in Rockville, who refused to give her name, said stores would not close until October. But Volski said that it is likely the company's two locations in the Baltimore area would close sooner than the Washington-area stores.
In addition to the Cockeysville site, Bell operates a store in Woodlawn off Security Boulevard. The manager there refused to comment.
Ten of 20 Bell stores closed shortly after bankruptcy proceedings began last year and hundreds of the company's 850 workers at the time were terminated.
Volski, who has been with Bell 10 years, said he had expected the announcement. He said his store employs just over 30 "loyal" workers. He said Bell employees tended to stay with the company a long time because the company was good to its workers.
The letter from Blum, distributed Monday, said employees would receive severance pay based on their years of service with the company. It also said a closing sale would commence Aug. 15.
"Together we have built an impressive business over 40 years," the letter said. "However, the last few years have been extremely difficult because of the decline of the catalog showroom industry, very sharp competition from other retailers, increasing restrictions and pressures from banks and deteriorating economic conditions."
Michael L. Mead, a retail analyst for Legg Mason, said today that when catalog showrooms came into vogue "they looked good compared with department stores," offering low prices on a variety of goods.
Over time, however, department stores stopped carrying the items found in showrooms, which left the market open for new discount retailers, including warehouse stores, which proliferated in the 1980s.