Shopko announced March 18 it would close its remaining stores.
Jeff Bollier and Karl Ebert, Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY – An auction of Shopko’s optical business this weekend could save as many as 700 jobs.
The sale would also mean that Shopko optical customers would not need to find a new provider, something that has been of particular concern to customers as the company nears its June shutdown.
In a bankruptcy court filing, the Ashwaubenon-based retailer on Wednesday said selling the optical business now, as the company has pivoted from reorganization to liquidation, would be a “tremendous achievement.”
Its filings indicate the company is in “advanced negotiations with multiple potential bidders.” An auction would be the only way to “realize the full value of the optical business,” the company said.
Shopko sold its pharmacy business in late 2018 and early 2019, and has been seeking a buyer for the optical operations, one of the company’s last remaining assets, since that time.
The auction documents identify as many as 80 locations that would become free-standing optical stores not tied to existing Shopko locations.
The winning bidder would be expected to assume responsibility for some contracts and leases related to the optical business operations, which includes an optical laboratory at 1450 Main Ave., in Ashwaubenon.
The auction was set as the Ashwaubenon-based retailer continues to liquidate inventory, lay off thousands of employees and close stores as it winds down its retail business.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Saldino approved the auction Wednesday. Bidders will have until 4 p.m. Friday to submit bids for the optical business. The company’s bankruptcy consultants will then conduct a live auction at 9 a.m. Monday, in New York City, to see if it an auction can generate more revenue than liquidation would. The proceeds from the sale would used to pay off Shopko’s many debts.
The winning bidder would be identified in bankruptcy court no later than Tuesday morning, and Saldino would be asked to certify the highest bidder during a hearing on April 18.
The company asked Saladino to expedite the optical business sale, citing the potential to save as many as 700 jobs at about 80 locations. Earlier in the bankrupcy, when Shopko was still trying to stay in business, Shopko proposed migrating as many as 50 to 60 of its optical centers, currently inside Shopko stores, into stand-alone locations.
Shopko and its affiliated companies filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors on Jan. 16, citing adverse conditions in the retail industry. It cited assets of less than $1 billion and liabilities between $1 billion and $10 billion.
The company initially sought a buyer to operate the company with a smaller footprint under a plan that would have closed about two-thirds of Shopko’s 360-plus stores. By mid-March, the effort was abandoned and the company began winding down its retail operations. The last of its stores will close by mid-June.
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