American TV & Appliance, a Madison Beltline mainstay for the past 60 years, announced Monday it was closing , putting nearly 1,000 employees at 11 locations in three states out of work.
Doug Reuhl, president and CEO of American since 1988, blamed an “unforgiving economy,” especially over the past five years, for the closure and said the Madison-based company would begin a going-out-of-business sale Thursday to liquidate its entire inventory of furniture, electronics and appliances.
“While this is a sad moment, it is also a proud moment,” Reuhl said in a news release. “It’s a moment to be proud of our efforts and to be proud of what we have delivered to the community.”
A switchboard operator at American TV refused to answer additional questions Monday or transfer a reporter to anyone else, noting the company had decided not to provide any additional information, including how many jobs will be lost in Madison.
But court papers filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court cited 696 American TV employees in Wisconsin, along with 114 in Illinois and 159 in Iowa, for a total of 969 full- and part-time employees. The receivership petition also said the company had assets with a total net book value of $72.56 million, compared with total liabilities of $54.7 million, with the assets’ fair value — or the amount they could be sold for — listed as “unknown” but worth less than the book value.
American TV’s 11 locations are in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, including two in Madison, at 2404 W. Beltline and 5215 High Crossing Blvd.
The company’s news release said all employees received advance notice of the closure and would be compensated, with benefits, through a “notification period” that was not further described or defined. The company also said most employees would continue working through the closing process.
Heading into receivership
Concerning the open-ended going-out-of-business sale, the company said American TV would continue to “fully serve” customers during this time, including:
Honoring gift cards and providing refunds to customers who don’t want to redeem them.
Considering all extended warranty policies purchased by customers valid and insured through a third-party insurance company.
Providing all customers with open orders either a delivery of their goods or a refund of their deposit.
Repairing or returning to customers all products in the company service center prior to the closing.
The company on Monday also reported its filing of the receivership petition for the protection of its creditors. Michael Polsky was to be appointed as the receiver.
According to the receivership petition, American TV’s assets included $2.8 million in cash, inventory with a book value of $35.5 million, equipment with a book value of $1.4 million, and real estate at the store locations with a net book value of about $30 million.
Liabilities included $24.5 million in real estate mortgages and debt on personal property owed to BMO Harris Bank; about $4 million owed to suppliers; and $6.4 million in customer deposit liability.
If approved by the court, the petition would authorize Polsky to pay off company creditors, sell company property, settle claims, collect debts, wind down business operations and take over the company’s employee benefit and retirement plans.
Though nothing prior suggested a mass closing, there have been signs in recent months and years that American TV was experiencing sales troubles. In March, the retailer announced it was discontinuing sales of a number of small electronics items, including computers, cameras and car audio systems.
And in June 2011, American TV announced it would leave the St. Louis market, citing the down economy for the closure of four stores and a distribution center in that area. Liquidation sales also were held for those Missouri store closings — in O’Fallon, Bridgeton, Fenton and Cottleville, plus the distribution center in Earth City, Mo. — but the company at that time declined to say how many jobs were eliminated.
“The effects of the recession in St. Louis got too difficult for the business to sustain,” company spokesman Stephen DeShong said in June 2011.
In the news release Monday, company officials said the last five years had been “very difficult for our industries,” adding they would be “closing our business forever” after completing the final sale.
“We have fought hard, valiantly and with great integrity,” the news release said. “We are proud of our efforts but the economy has been unforgiving.”
According to court papers and the company’s website, American TV does business at 11 locations. Outside Madison, its Wisconsin stores are in Brown Deer, Waukesha, Oak Creek and Appleton, along with a warehouse and distribution center in Pewaukee. Its Illinois stores are in Peoria and Rockford, with Iowa stores in Des Moines and Davenport.
Each store averages about 130,000 square feet, the company said, with corporate offices at the Madison Beltline location.
Concerns but hope for redevelopment
South Madison Development Corp. spokesperson Daniel Guerra Jr. reacted to the pending American TV closure Monday with concern, while also noting that the company’s departure will open up prime commercial space along the West Beltline.
“We regret the loss of an iconic South Madison business,” Guerra said in a statement. “American TV, and the Reuhl family, have been longtime supporters of community projects. ... This will have an impact on our regional economy and affect many hard-working families. Now is the time for us to start thinking about the future, and what we can do together. ... It may just be an opportunity we didn’t know was in play.”
Former longtime American TV head Len Mattioli could not be reached for comment Monday. Known for his wild store promotions and commercials, Mattioli, 70, retired from American TV about five years ago and in March opened an electric bicycle store on Odana Road.
On Tuesday, Mattioli, who’s vacationing in the Cayman Islands, said through a spokesman at his bike shop that he felt bad for all the employees losing their jobs and was sorry to see the decline of the business. He also thanked the public for its support.
Founded in 1954, American TV was started by television repairman Ferd Mattioli, brother of Len Mattioli, who took over the TV store in 1970, according to an Associated Press account Monday.
Len Mattioli grew the operation over the next few decades, famously using his signature “Crazy TV Lenny” persona in radio and TV ads and also offering a free bike with sales of televisions and appliances.
Former American TV employee John Budd, who put himself through college working in sales at the Madison West location from 1986 to 1990, said he well remembered Mattioli, who would often talk with staff about the sales process at weekly sales meetings.
“I enjoyed it and learned a lot. He was definitely a master salesperson,” said Budd, a Prairie du Sac native who now works in commercial roofing in the Dallas area. “The fact that he took a corner TV shop and turned it into a $250 million-a-year business showed how really good he was.”