The Ghosts of Brooks Brothers

ENFIELD, Con. – The bones of Brooks Brothers stores are spread over 100,000 square feet in a warehouse near the Massachusetts border mixed with cardboard boxes and junk.

Mannequins have legs, empty circular tables, once displayed neck-shaped, posters of horse riding gentlemen of a tornado era. There is a full section of Christmas trees and countless gold painted ornaments of sheep suspended by ribbons Brooks Brothers Symbol Known as the Golden Fleece since 1850. The blank order forms for the tailor are scattered about. A neon sign that apparently still works. There is no garment, but there are rows of heavy sewing machines that most likely came from one of the brand’s recently closed factories. And in the bathroom, a welcome carpet with Brooks Brothers, who write cursory next to a toilet.

In the result of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing and sale last year, the entire mass here was left out, of a retailer earning around $ 1 billion in sales in 2019. All this has been done to find out how to get rid of it. Junk removal companies have told them it would cost at least $ 240,000 to vacate the space, which was rented by Brooks Brothers through November. To pay the bill, LaBontes would have to sell their home.

Shows far-reaching consequences of the couple’s predicament Retail bankrupt, Which stunned during the epidemic and affected everyone from factory workers to officers. Small sellers and landlords are often left out of the hold Short end of stick During the lengthy Byzantine bankruptcy proceedings, especially with spending limits on legal bills compared to large corporations. And once bankrupt brands are sold, people like La-Bonte are usually left in the dust.

“It is a very sad situation that unfortunately happens to a large extent because it is part of the bankruptcy situation,” said James Van Horn, partner and retail bankruptcy expert at Barnes & Thornburg. “Unfortunately, creditors can become victims, and sometimes they have little or no option to recover what they owe.”

Retailers such as Brooks Brothers were more than 600 heads Corporate bankrupt Last year in the United States, which had the worst filings in a decade, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

La Bontes, who was in his 60s, is working with a liquidator to separate Brooks Brothers, and they are about to list their home in Sherborne, Mass. Anticipating receiving less than 5 percent, which they are owed, if – at most, they are angry and unreliable about the situation, especially as Brooks Brothers continues to operate under wealthy new owners.

“We understand that to go out of business and bankruptcy, but on us to overcome their problem and get away from it and make us their sanitation costs?” Mr. La Bonte said in an interview in Enfield. “Nobody would estimate spending in this way – we don’t have the day’s money to deal with it.”

The couple bought a warehouse in 2010. He said that this was his first foray into commercial real estate and before that he worked on residential projects. They have other tenants and a self-storage section, but are frustrated about the mess and the fact that they cannot use the space for anything else until it clears up.

Brooks Brothers, founded in 1818 and the oldest continuously operated apparel brand in the United States, began renting a warehouse in Enfield in 2011, most recently at a rate of about $ 20,000 a month. (Brooks Brothers also has a corporate office and distribution center in Enfield.) The building, which spans approximately 375,000 square feet, is hosted by LaBont through KBRC Realty. It is the firm’s sole holding and main source of income.

Last year, the retailing office attire segment suffered significant losses as many Americans worked remotely. Entire parts of their wardrobe. J. Crew and Ann Taylor and Men’s Warehouse owners also filed for bankruptcy, while the sale nose-dipped in chains such as Banana Republic. Temporary store closures added to the crisis, along with the cancellation of special occasions, as well as proms, bachelors, weddings and other events.

All under the leadership of Brooks Brothers Bankruptcy filing in July, One of the most significant retail collapse of 2020. The Brooks Brothers dressed all four American presidents at the time of their filing, and prowled themselves at their American factories, which were also forced to close.

But investors saw value in the brand, and the retailer was quickly bought for $ 325 million by Simon Property Group, the largest US mall operator and Authentic Brands Group, a licensing firm.

The firms have bought a string of bankrupt mall retailers through a joint venture Spark Group, Including Lucky Brand Denim and Forever 21, leverage a combination of various engaging and creative (and some equity-destructive) ways and Authentic Brands’ expertise in licensing well-known brand names to Simon’s real estate portfolio.

At the time of the Brooks Brothers purchase, SPARC committed to operating at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations, compared to 424 retail and outlet stores globally before the epidemic.

Under the new owners, Brooks Brothers switched to wire transfers rather than checks, but continued to pay rent at the warehouse through November, sending even more goods there as it closed dozens of stores and closed it. Three american factories, Said Mr. and Ms. Lonte. But after Thanksgiving, it sent the couple a letter denying the lease as well as the contents of the warehouse. According to a person aware of the deal, the warehouse and its contents were not part of the purchase of Sparks Brooks Brothers. As a result, Mr. van Horn said, the new owner is most likely the Lobonts with no legal responsibility.

A representative from SPARC stopped returning requests for comment.

“They use it for all the fixtures in their stores, so tables, Proper, fishing poles, canoes, everything you’ll see that will have to go in and out of a store to decorate it,” Mr. LaBonte said . “There’s probably 20,000 sq ft of Christmas trees – everything except the actual cargo.”

As for who would like it now: Customers have included local clothing manufacturers who are looking for mannequins and a set designer from the upcoming HBO series called “The Guild Age”. Last Monday, a large couple strayed from the space looking at Christmas decorations and empty gift boxes. Habitat for Humanity is banned for several days and is carrying some goods. Nevertheless, Mr. La Bonte estimated that some 30 percent of the remainder had been sold.

The liquidator paid LaBontes approximately $ 20,000 that they could sell in or around mid-April. The couple will not get the deduction, and will deal with what is left. When junk removal experts assessed the cost of cleaning the space in December, one quote was around $ 243,000 while the other was closer to $ 290,000.

“We’re just another Kovid casualty for them, we get that,” Ms. Lobunt said of Brooks Brothers. “But I don’t even think they realized how much stuff was there.”

Junk removal firms confirmed the prices with The New York Times, stating that it was expensive to remove the quantity of goods. The cost included multiple trips to labor, dumps, donations and recycling centers and the use of specialized equipment such as a forklift, large dumpster, and an 18-foot box truck.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Rick Mcdonald Jr., owner of East McSide Junk, who offers the pair a bid of $ 243,000. “He left an astronomical amount of luggage.”

When the licensing firm Authentic Brands announced Brooks Brothers was out of bankruptcy last year, the company’s chief executive, Jamie Salter, spoke of the retailer’s legacy and its “incredible history”.

La Bontes, who faced a warehouse full of some of that history, was saddened to see those comments.

He recently made a statement, “What kind of legacy can they claim when they act like low-rent, fly-night-nighty?”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at sapna@nytimes.com or Vanessa Freedman at vanessa.friedman@nytimes.com.

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