The Museum Company files for Chapter 11

The Museum Company-a chain of 99 shops and an Internet site that sell museum-related products-is closing eight of its stores by the end of the month, including its two flagship stores in Manhattan: one on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street and the other on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, The New York Times reported. It has also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Museum Company’s stores, in shopping malls and cities in the United States and Canada, offer consumers a kind of one-stop shopping for everything from museum reproduction jewelry, stained glass, and sculptures to books, umbrellas and glassware. The company manufactures some of the merchandise itself; it also buys directly from museums.

“Many of the Museum Company’s stores are in airports and around the New York area, and they were especially hard-hit by the events of Sept. 11,” Alan B. Hyman, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose, who represents the retailer, told the Times. “They have retained a financial adviser and are planning to raise equity.” Mr. Hyman added that the company had formed a creditors’ committee and was planning to restructure its operations. Its creditors include the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Closing eight of its stores around the country is one part of the Museum Company’s restructuring plans. But by doing away with its two Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street locations it will no longer have a presence in Manhattan.

“The most highly visible stores are also the least profitable,” said Howard Meitiner, the company’s president and chief operating officer reportedly said. “Flagships stores are great when you can afford them. We will look to returning to New York City sometime in the future.” Meanwhile, Mr. Meitiner added, many of the shopping centers, eager to keep the Museum Stores, have lowered rents.

Court papers listed the Museum Corporation-the parent company of the Museum Company, the stained-glass maker Omnia Inc. and MuseumCompany.com-as having assets of $73.5 million and liabilities of $54.6 million, the Times.

Founded in 1989 by three retailers, the Museum Company began as a way to take the museum gift-shop concept into shopping malls around the country. A group of private investors with an interest in retailing own the corporation, Mr. Meitiner reportedly said.

The Museum Company currently owes $505,400 to the Museum of Modern Art for shipments of items like the Modern’s note paper, umbrellas and perpetual calendar, the Times reported.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington is waiting for $500,000 from the Museum Company, the Times reported. In November 2000 it announced an alliance with the Museum Company and MuseumCompany.com to start SmithsonianStore.com, which billed itself as “a new Internet superstore selling products inspired by the vast Smithsonian collections.” The Museum Company and the Smithsonian also embarked on a long-term product-development and licensing agreement in which the Museum Company became involved in helping to develop products with Smithsonian Business Ventures, which oversees the Smithsonian’s product and licensing division.

Unlike the Modern, which is owed money for merchandise, the Smithsonian is awaiting payment on its agreement, which includes the dot- com business, ongoing product development and licensing outlets, Mary Combs, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, reportedly said.