The home-grown bookstore chain that started nearly six years ago with great expectations opened the doors to all four of its Baltimore-area stores yesterday for the beginning of the end.
There were no large going-out-of-business signs. No banners announcing discounted prices on the first day of a 90-day liquidation sale.
Just a steady flow of loyal customers who read the bankruptcy notices posted on the doors, shook their heads and wondered aloud where they would go now that Bibelot was closing.
As books, compact discs and magazines flew off the shelves, attorneys for Baltimore's largest independent book and music seller won court permission for its bookstores to honor thousands of dollars in gift certificates purchased before last Friday's bankruptcy filing.
It was a victory for disgruntled customers, who were turned away from redeeming gift certificates over the past five days, and for Brian D. Weese and his wife, Elizabeth, the owners of Bibelot, who had sought permission to redeem them.
"I'm glad that these certificates are going to be honored," said Judge James F. Schneider, presiding over the Bibelot case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore. "It's really a question of how people feel about the business. This was a business that depended on the good will of customers. It was the basis for its past success.
"Unfortunately, it didn't have the kind of success we all hoped it would have."
Bibelot will lay off about 100 employees and close its stores in Canton, Cross Keys, Timonium and Pikesville within three months.
The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy under its corporate name, Bloomsbury Group, owes $15 million to $18 million but has assets of $10 million to $15 million.
The honoring of book certificates yesterday was part of a deal with a creditor, Bank of America Corp. The gift certificates - which are considered debts by the bankruptcy court - will continue to be honored until the close of business April 5. Cash refunds are prohibited. Bank of America is trying to recover a $17 million loan to Bibelot.
Bibelot attorneys from the law firm of Shapiro, Sher and Guinot are unsure how many certificates are outstanding, but their value is estimated to be $100,000 to $200,000.
After the sale ends, liquidator Schottenstein/Bernstein Capital Group will sell off the wood shelves, plush armchairs and display tables from each store. Keen Realty Consultants Inc. of New York has been hired to market Bibelot's leases.
Upon hearing the news about the gift certificates yesterday, Alfred Rosenstein headed straight for the Woodholme Shopping Center in Pikesville, where the first Bibelot opened in April 1995.
Rosenstein walked in with $130 in gift certificates and came out with two bags of CDs and books.
"We're very sorry to see it close, but I was very upset the other day when they wouldn't take my certificates," said the 60-year-old Pikesville resident, who has frequented the store several times a week since it opened.
He wasn't the only one. Several angry certificate holders became agitated enough over the past several days that security guards were posted in each store yesterday.
But the scene at the Pikesville Bibelot was far from unruly, even though all merchandise had a 25 percent discount.
Children hopped around the romper room. Adults in comfy chairs browsed through books, music and magazines. And friends gathered for lunch at Donna's, which hopes to keep operating its coffee bars at all four sites.
While some customers came mainly to check out the sales, many were surprised by the bankruptcy notices on the door that said, "All events and community meetings have been canceled" and "All Sales Final. No Exchanges. No refunds."
"I looked and saw the `All Sales Final' sign and walked in," said Gloria Avidor, 66, a Baltimore resident.
"I have a routine three times a week. I go to the Bibelot, then I go to [a nearby] Starbucks to read the book I bought and then I go to the spa across the street. I don't know what I'm going to do now.
"I'm going to miss this place."