Trendy catalog retailer J. Peterman Co., which last year launched a major expansion effort that included opening its first West Coast retail store at Fashion Island Newport Beach, is going out of business.
Founder John Peterman said Monday that last-ditch attempts to find a buyer for his struggling company had failed. He said he expects a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge to set a date today for an auction at which J. Peterman Co.'s assets will be sold to the highest bidder, with proceeds going to its creditors.
Those assets include J. Peterman's 5,000-square-foot store at Fashion Island, which was supposed to set the pace for the company's growth when it opened last March. A clerk there Monday afternoon said employees have not yet heard when the doors will close or what the workers' fates will be in the wake of failed efforts to sell the company.
"Over the weekend, we had a buyer, but their proposal wouldn't work," both in terms of price and structuring, Peterman said in a telephone interview.
Peterman, a 57-year-old former minor league baseball player and marketing consultant, started selling vintage cowboy-style dusters in 1987 through ads in the back of the New Yorker magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
By the next year, he was putting out a catalog that was something new in the mail-order business: consciously upscale, with color sketches of the merchandise instead of photographs, and lyrical copy that invested the merchandise with a romantic, exotic history.
The marketing approach was imitated by other retailers and became the target of satire on the hit television comedy "Seinfeld." During the show's final three seasons, ending in May, the character Elaine Benes worked for J. Peterman, whose headquarters were relocated to New York for the show's purposes.
Early last year, the real John Peterman decided to capitalize on the fame with a retail expansion that included plans for 50 stores and 20 catalog outlets.
But by the end of the year, the Lexington, Ky.-based company needed to lay off employees and put a freeze on store openings amid a slowdown in catalog sales.
The company, which employs 500 people, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 25.
The company has remained in business in recent weeks through a series of stopgap loans provided by its only secured creditor, Heller Financial of Chicago.
In its most recent court filings, Peterman listed debts of more than $14 million.