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Mitchells Take Control of Wilkes Bashford

A bankruptcy court in San Francisco has approved the purchase of Wilkes Bashford by the Mitchell family of Connecticut for $4.6 million in cash.

It’s a done deal — the Mitchells are the new owners of Wilkes Bashford.

This story first appeared in the November 30, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A bankruptcy court in San Francisco on Wednesday approved the sale of the San Francisco-based luxury specialty store to Ed Mitchell West LLC for $4.6 million in cash.

“The judge approved everything,” said Bob Mitchell, co-president of the $100 million Connecticut-based retailer that owns Mitchells in Westport, Conn., Richards in Greenwich, Conn., and Marshs in Huntington, N.Y. “There were no other bids and the creditors all supported the plan.”

The acquisition gives the Mitchells a beachhead on the West Coast, where they can be players in the luxury men’s wear sector in the San Francisco Bay area.

The Mitchells have purchased the inventory, trademark and fixtures of the business, not its liabilities. Mitchell said the creditors, which include vendors such as Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana and Bogner, are certain the family can “stabilize the business, get it back to being healthy again and move it forward.”

Tyler Mitchell, vice president of men’s buying and furnishings, is relocating to San Francisco to run the store on a daily basis. Jack Mitchell, Bob’s father and co-chairman, along with his son, Andrew, vice president of marketing, will spend two weeks at a time at the store during the transition.

Bob Mitchell said the family is not going into the acquisition with preconceived ideas. “Tyler, Andrew and my dad will be the team, but we will listen and learn,” he said. “There’s no master plan. We will hear from the customers and the associates on how to make the business bigger and stronger.”

The family is “committed” to continuing Wilkes Bashford as a luxury business. “That’s where we’ve had our success over the years,” he said. Although there are differences between the company’s existing stores and its new addition, “the similarities outweigh the differences. My dad and I have spent the last couple of days on the floor meeting customers and we’ve found that they, and the associates here, are very similar to ours.”

Many on the sales staff have been with the store for years and have created strong relationships with their customers. “You can’t duplicate that,” Mitchell said.

The associates will be supported by founder Wilkes Bashford, who will remain active in the community and on the sales floor.

“The economy is slowly improving and we’ll be delivering fresh goods starting next week,” Mitchell said.

In mid-November, Wilkes filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition at the same time that Ed Mitchell West submitted an offer to acquire the store. Wilkes, a men’s wear institution that opened in 1966, operates a seven-story flagship on Union Square as well as a store in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Last month, the company closed its store in Carmel, Calif., and, the month before that, a Mill Valley, Calif., unit was shuttered.

In the Chapter 11 petition filed, Wilkes assets were listed as between $10 million and $50 million, with liabilities estimated in the same range.