15 bids expected for Chesapeake Beverage Corp.

November 15, 1992|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Fifteen companies are considering purchasing Chesapeake Beverage Corp., the bankrupt Havre de Grace bottler that shut down abruptly Oct. 30, a court-appointed trustee said.

Joel I. Sher, a Baltimore attorney appointed Chesapeake's trustee by a federal bankruptcy judge, said the companies have placed bids or plan to do so.

Mr. Sher would not identify the companies or reveal the amount of the bids he has received for Chesapeake. The bottler's closing left more than 100 employees jobless and without pay for their last two weeks of work.

"I will not rush into a decision" to sell, Mr. Sher said. "I want to select the best available ownership. It's important to the former employees and the community."

Chesapeake filed last week under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which applies when owners plan to liquidate a company rather than restructure it, Mr. Sher said. Chesapeake had sought protection last year from creditors under Chapter 11, which allows debtors to stay in control of their assets while they develop a restructuring plan.

Meanwhile, Joel Smith, an attorney for the union representing former Chesapeake employees, United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 27, said the union plans no legal action to recoup workers' pay.

Danny Cohens, who worked at Chesapeake until it closed, said he has already found a job but remains at a loss to explain the plant's closing. "We seemed to have more than enough work. There was even some overtime," said Mr. Cohens, who was a forklift operator at Chesapeake. "I had only been on the job since last March, but all seemed OK. It was a nice place to work, but I'd be a little leery about going back."

Warren Beardsley Jr., who also lost his job when Chesapeake shut down, said he and other former workers would not seek employment under what would become the plant's fifth owner in its 16-year history.

"Most said they've been through this before and didn't want to take another chance," he said. "They are hoping to be employed by a company that offers stability."

Mr. Beardsley, a 37-year-old father of two, said he will never take a manufacturing job again. He is considering opening a carpet-cleaning business. "I really want to control my own destiny," he said.

"I realize I'll be taking a gamble, but I'm tired of having someone else controlling whether I get paid . . . or have a job."

Fern Riley, who was a material handler when the plant closed, shared those sentiments.

"I made good money and enjoyed the work, but there is no way I'd go back," she said. "This [change of ownership] has happened too often. That's one reason why it's so difficult to find anyone at the plant with a great deal of seniority."

Chesapeake sought Chapter 11 protection in June 1991 after a plan to merge with a bottling company in Oklahoma was put on hold. At the time, Chesapeake listed $4.25 million in assets and $6.3 million in liabilities.

The company, which reported revenues of $4 million in 1990, said it owed Maryland National Bank more than $3 million and had debts to many suppliers.

The plant opened in 1976 and had a succession of owners, including Goodwell USA, Showerings and Anheuser-Busch.

A group of investors, led by Bruce J. Hagsted, bought the company in August 1988. The group also included C. Ronald Levison, the longtime manager of the beverage plant. He left the company in 1989.

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