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St. John Knits Closing 3 Amen Wardy Home Stores

Retailing: Upscale clothier's move to shutter struggling outlets comes in wake of legal settlement.

May 11, 1999|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just weeks after settling a bitter legal dispute over control of its home store division, St. John Knits Inc. said Monday it is closing three of its struggling Amen Wardy Home stores.

The upscale women's clothier will continue to operate home stores--which on Monday were renamed St. John Home--in Costa Mesa and Scottsdale, Ariz., said Roger Ruppert, the Irvine company's chief financial officer.

The home stores have been at the center of a dispute between the Gray family that heads St. John and home store namesakes Amen Wardy Sr. and Amen Wardy Jr. The younger Wardy was fired in August as chief executive of the home stores unit.

As part of the April 1 settlement, St. John agreed to relinquish control of the Las Vegas home store to the Wardys and to rename the remaining stores.

Then, St. John set about closing three of the home stores still under its control. The Dallas store shut down about two weeks ago, the Palm Beach, Fla., location was shuttered over the weekend and the Boston store will close May 23, Ruppert said.

"They have not carried the foot traffic that was desirable to be a strong, profitable venture," said Peter Buonocore, who was named chief executive of the subsidiary in February.

The closures do not come as a complete surprise. St. John Chief Executive Robert E. Gray said in February that the firm would close the Boston store and was monitoring the performance of the Dallas and Palm Beach operations.

More St. John Home stores may open later in other locations, Buonocore said.

Other Amen Wardy Home stores also may be set up elsewhere, Wardy Jr. said Monday. And there is "a very good chance," he added, that one will open in the Orange County area within the next year, which could put the two families in head-to-head competition.

"We've been approached by numerous landlords, both around Vegas and around the country, to open other stores," said Wardy Jr., who now operates the Las Vegas store.

St. John's stock closed Monday at $27.56, down 19 cents, in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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