Ames Department Stores, mired in Chapter 11 for almost two years, will close four Baltimore-area stores as part of its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy court protection and compete with the Wal-Marts and K marts of the world.
Approximately 300 people will lose their jobs, said Ames' public relations manager, Bill Roberts.
The closings, which will leave 36 stores in Maryland, were announced yesterday in advertisements for "total liquidation" sales at 5401 Baltimore National Pike and 2501 Belair Road in Baltimore; 8514 Liberty Road in Randallstown; and 7 Mountain Road in Glen Burnie.
Ames, saddled with $1.44 billion in debt after an ill-fated acquisition of 392 Zayre's stores in 1988, lost $793.5 million in 1990. Ames, which is based in Rocky Hill, Conn., was once the nation's fourth-largest retailer but has been shrinking since its April 1990 bankruptcy petition. After the filing, its new management closed 234 stores almost immediately and said in October that it would close 77 more. The Baltimore-area closings are among those 77.
In a plan proposed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Hartford, Conn., Monday, Ames said it might also close some of its 371 remaining stores to generate cash to satisfy creditors. Which stores might go in that phase of closings has not been announced, and the plan is still subject to approval by the court and Ames' creditors.
That approval is uncertain. The Ames plan would pay creditors at 22 cents on the dollar. Some debt-holders could balk at those terms.
Mr. Roberts said Ames is working to reposition itself in the market so that it will not be going head-to-head with the powerhouses of the discount retail industry.
K mart has long been a strong competitor, and Wal-Mart is steadily advancing into Ames' 15-state marketing area, which runs from Maine to Michigan and as far south as Virginia.
Mr. Roberts said Ames would make its store more specialty-oriented, with an emphasis on clothing for casual living, home furnishings and ready-to-assemble furniture. Ames will also put new emphasis on crafts and jewelry, adapting the format of its 15-store Crafts and More chain as a department within its discount department stores.
Crafts, an area that is not known as a particular strength of the two discount giants, has been a lucrative field as more consumers decide to make their own gifts.
Mr. Roberts said that Ames plans to do significant remodeling of its stores, many of which are noticeably dated, over the next few years.
And he insisted that the company will not close stores just because a competitor moves into the area -- as happened in Prince Frederick in Calvert County when a new Wal-Mart opened a short distance from an aging Ames last fall.
"We do well even when we have Wal-Marts that are literally across the street," he said. The Prince Frederick store is among those that will remain open.