MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Now a final chapter in a story we've been following of one retailer's struggles in the recession. Bowl & Board is a housewares chain in the Boston area. For months, it teetered on the edge of insolvency. And then last month, it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It's now faced with liquidation.
NPR's Tovia Smith brings us the not so happy ending.
TOVIA SMITH: When Bowl & Board finally succumbed to the recession after 43 years in business, it was a bit anticlimactic. Owner Mark Giarrusso closed the store one night, surrendered his keys, and it was done.
Ms. JENNA DASILVA: They're closed for ever. For good. Oh, no.
SMITH: A handwritten note taped to the door in Somerville offers little explanation to would-be shoppers like Jenna Dasilva.
Ms. DASILVA: That's so sad. What are they doing with all their stuff?
SMITH: That's a decision now in the hands of a bankruptcy trustee.
Mr. MARK GIARRUSSO (Owner, Bowl & Board): How you guys doing?
Unidentified Man #1: All right.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: I'm Mark.
Unidentified Man #1: I'm Al(ph).
Mr. GIARRUSSO: As you can imagine I got about a hundred questions.
SMITH: Meeting the trustees' team at the store, Giarrusso starts asking about everything, from the sofas customers are waiting for to his own shoes he left under his desk.
Unidentified Man #2: I'm going to take pictures of everything.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Yeah.
Unidentified Man #2: You can't contact anything until they give you permission to do that.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Okay.
SMITH: They seize his computer hard drives�
Unidentified Man #2: So, everything - books and records�
(Soundbite of telephone ring)
Mr. GIARRUSSO: �should all be up in here?
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.
SMITH: �and start to inventory the store for a going-out-of-business sale. Giarrusso starts to spread the word - first, by changing the store's outgoing phone message.
Unidentified Woman #1: Record at the tone.
(Soundbite of record tone)
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Thank you for calling Bowl & Board. All the mainland's Bowl & Board stores are closed.
SMITH: But even that turns out to be a difficult task.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: We've weathered several recessions, but we cannot lick this one.
(Soundbite of phone hanging up)
Mr. GIARRUSSO: I can't do it. How do you do the last message, 43 years?
SMITH: A few more tries and Giarrusso finally gets through it. Then, an email blast goes out, flyers go up and the crowds line up.
Unidentified Woman #2: There's been a line for a long time?
Ms. JEAN TALARICO: Maybe half an hour. With 75 percent off, I'm sure I'll find something.
SMITH: The sale turns out to be something of a mix between a bargain-palooza and a wake.
Unidentified Woman #3: We're just brokenhearted. My mom shopped here when she was in college.
Ms. ELLEN THOMPSON(ph): I'm heartbroken. Yeah, I came here as a college student.
SMITH: Many of the shoppers like Maria Dantzer, Marium Cooper(ph), and Ellen Thompson talk about Bowl & Board like it's family.
Ms. MARIA DANTZER: I brought a rocking chair that I used to nurse my second child.
Unidentified Woman #4: Really, I got my first expensive piece of furniture here that I bought as an adult.
Ms. DANTZER: And a wall shelf that is in my baby's room. My baby is now 17. So, thank you.
SMITH: As sad as it all is, for Giarrusso the outpouring is also oddly uplifting.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: What do you think?
Unidentified Man #3: 1.40.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Done.
Unidentified Man #3: All right.
SMITH: With the big crowds and fast-pace, Giarrusso is back on his game.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: This right here is how a Saturday was three years ago maybe, every Saturday.
SMITH: Taking a kind of victory lap on his way out of business.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: This is the stuff I'm going to miss. You know it's like, the sport of retail, generating the dollars.
SMITH: It doesn't seem to matter that every dollar Giarrusso is generating now goes not to him, but to pay off an old landlord, whose hardball tactics forced him into bankruptcy in the first place.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Don't even say that because I blocked that out.
Ms. SUSAN SPECTER(ph): I think it's too sad for him to really take that in right now.
SMITH: Susan Specter works in an office upstairs.
Ms. SPECTER: I don't think that it has sunken in with him yet, that this is it for him. This is the end of his business and his family business.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Okay, 106.78.
SMITH: Every once in a while, Giarrusso looks at the crowd and can't help but wonder if he stuck it out just a little longer, if he could have made it.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Yeah, we were that close. Like we were that close.
SMITH: But very quickly he remembers. Sales are still down, rents are still going up, and Ikea is about to open nearby.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: You know, it hurts. I'm going to call it the end of an era. And I wish we'd go 60 percent off.
SMITH: As the sale winds down, the discounts go deeper, drawing bargain hunters like Andrea Meyer(ph).
Ms. ANDREA MEYER: You kind of feel like it's not right to take advantage of misfortune. But we're all feeling the pinch.
SMITH: By day's end, eight Bowl & Board employees will join the ranks of the unemployed. It's what hurts Giarrusso the most. But as he puts it, he's trying to avert an even bigger disaster. He compares his business to an airliner with a bomb on board.
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Yeah, I just want to bring it down smoothly on the cornfield, so no one gets hurt and not blow up in the sky. It's not a happy ending, but it's - if I kept going further, it was going to get worse. It's like - I learned a lot. When you go into Chapter 11, the system - it's protection. It's to protect people.
SMITH: Giarrusso is pretty confident he'll be okay. He's already got work coaching lacrosse and is talking about a new gig selling eco-friendly packaging. He's open to anything.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Hello, Mark. No, we are actually closing the store, yeah. Yeah, thanks, man.
(Soundbite of phone hanging up)
Mr. GIARRUSSO: Looking for a job.
SMITH: Times may be tough right now, but Giarrusso is ever the optimist. He's already asking about buying back the Bowl & Board name. You never know, he says. He may have run up against the buzzer today, but there's always another game tomorrow.
Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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