After 134 years of operation and six months of legal procedures, Hardwick Clothes is now officially under new ownership.
Cleveland businessman Allan Jones and Hardwick Clothes President Tommy Hopper signed the final papers earlier this week transferring ownership of Bradley County’s second-oldest company and America’s oldest tailored clothing maker.
It has been a nervous and wracking few months as employees awaited word on whether their jobs might disappear after it was forced into bankruptcy following the actions of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
PBGC had demanded a payment of more than $4 million that coincided with the company’s discontinuation of its pension plan due to a slowing of the marketplace.
That payment was expected within days after the notice was received by Hardwick, causing the company to take the extreme measure of filing for bankruptcy protection.
Hardwick was able in January to access a $2 million line of credit from Keltic Financial Partners II, LLC which gave the company liquid capital with which to maintain operations.
Another legal hurdle was cleared in March, when a federal bankruptcy judge approved a plan which labeled Burlington Worldwide a “critical vendor.”
That allowed the company to maintain a form of credit with its major material vendor.
However, despite its best efforts, Hardwick was still losing money with no end in sight within the immediate future.
Only days after the critical vendor approval, Hardwick got a critical shot in the arm with an agreement with Jones, who made a bid of $2 million for the company.
Jones stepped into the picture citing his appreciation for the part the company has played in the history of Cleveland, expressing support for its employees and stating a firm belief that American-made clothes will once again be a dominant force in the world’s fashion marketplace.
“I think now is the right time for ‘American made,’” Jones said in announcing his bid. “We want to take advantage of the history and experience. That’s our plan.”
Jones’ plan was put on hold when PBGC filed an objection, got approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to extend the deadline for bids and forced Jones to reduce his request for a successful competitive bidder to pay $200,000 expense reimbursement fee to $100,000.
In the interim, and after finding some environmental situations that would need to be resolved, Hardwick and Jones negotiated a reduced price of $1.9 million.
The Hardwick/Jones agreement appeared to be a sure thing as the deadline passed for competitive bids until the last minute when Joe V. Williams III placed a $2.1 million bid.
Attorneys for Hardwick rejected the bid saying it did not follow the guidelines as approved by the court, including paying a 10 percent cash deposit and having a complicated financing deal for the purchase.
Williams filed an objection, but Jones’ counsel made a “show the money” move by issuing a subpoena requiring Williams to produce his financial records and prove he had the immediate access to the cash he would need to complete the sale.
The final sale hearing on June 6 had its moment of drama when Williams’ attorney requested the court’s permission to withdraw from the matter. Also, when Williams was called by the judge for any testimony, it was announced both Williams and his attorney had “left the building.”
It took only a matter of moments when a historic figure on the Cleveland skyline entered a new period in its history.
“I am convinced the pendulum is swinging back to ‘Made in America,’” Jones said after the sale was closed.
Jones is in the process of finding a new CEO for the company.
“We’re going to try to make the best blazer in the world,” he said after he won the chance to buy the company. “At one time, Hardwick was considered to be the maker of the best blazers in the world. Then, we’re going to look at making the best khaki pants in the world. We’re wanting to create a niche.”
Jones has constantly maintained his thoughts that the employees are “the biggest assets of the company.”
“The most important asset wasn’t on the balance sheet, and it was them,” he said. “We want to be real loyal to the employees because we need them.”
A new logo has already been unveiled featuring the 1880 American flag, and the new owner says the flag will soon fly again over Hardwick headquarters.