Al Volski, the manager of the W. Bell & Co. store in Cockeysville, said he wasn't surprised by the notice he received this week that his store -- and all of Bell's remaining 10 stores -- are about to be closed for good.
A 10-year Bell employee, Volski said he has seen the highs and lows of the catalog showroom industry and knew an era was about to end.
"It's just another page to be turned," said a resigned Volski yesterday.
Court-appointed liquidators are scheduled to visit all Bell stores in the Baltimore and Washington areas within 10 to 20 days, Bell Executive Vice President Bernard Blum wrote in a letter to employees this week.
The Rockville company, which filed for Chapter 11 protection last December, will begin a going-out-of-business sale Aug 15. The letter gave no date for closing the stores.
A Bell employee in Rockville, who refused to give her name, said stores are not slated to close until October. But Volski said he expects that the two Baltimore area Bell stores, including one in Woodlawn, will close sooner.
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.
Bell's departure underscores an upheaval in retail since the proliferation of large discount chains and warehouses in the 1980s. Those new retailers have edged out the catalog showroom stores by offering improvements in service and more merchandise.
Michael L. Mead, a retail analyst for Legg Mason, said that at first the discounts at showroom stores "looked good compared with department stores."
But department stores eventually found it hard to compete and dropped those lines carried by the showrooms. This left the market open to the discount retailers such as K mart, Wal-Mart, Pace Warehouse and others.
By expanding rapidly, such retailers overwhelmed the showrooms, offering similar merchandise, cheaper prices and shorter lines.
In his letter to workers, Blum acknowledged the shift in retail as one of several factors leading to the company's demise.