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Feb 17, 2010 12:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton appliance store moves, files for bankruptcy

Feb 17, 2010 12:44 PM

Less than two weeks after moving his business last month from Gabreski Airport to a warehouse located across the street on Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton, Bob Stevens, the owner of the appliance store that bears his name, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Though Bob Stevens Appliances, a fixture in Westhampton for the past 24 years, is now facing financial restructuring, the bankruptcy declaration does not mean that the store will be closing its doors, Mr. Stevens said. Rather, he said it is an opportunity for his business to reorganize and emerge stronger than ever.

“We have no plans to go out of business,” Mr. Stevens said this week. “We’re going to be a stronger and better company. It has no bearing on our ability to do business.”

He explained that his decision to file for Chapter 11 was the result of the poor economy, noting that he has already cut his operating costs and reduced his staff. Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows companies to reorganize and stay afloat while paying back their creditors over time, according to the Federal Judiciary.

Mr. Stevens voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn on January 14. He is due for a meeting in federal court in Central Islip this Friday, February 19, according to court records.

In the weeks leading up to the filing, Mr. Stevens had his employees load up moving trucks with contents from his former store to transport them across the street. After losing his lease with Suffolk County, owner Mr. Stevens was forced to relocate his business, which opened in 1986, to a new building that’s located less than half a mile north and across the street from his old digs on Old Riverhead Road. Now, customers searching for stoves and washing machines can visit the same retail complex that features Hampton Interiors and CP Flowers Direct.

Last month, appliance store employees used handcarts and old-fashioned muscle to maneuver washing machines into a neat row as they finished setting up the showroom in the former Bob Stevens Appliance warehouse, which will now be used as the retail store as well. The new building is a little smaller than his old store, so there will not be as much office space for employees, according to Mr. Stevens.

“It’s not quite as big,” he said. “But we have an awful lot of product to show people.”

The new store, a brick building surrounded by other warehouses, is not as visible from Old Riverhead Road as was his old building at Gabreski Airport. As of this week, there was only one small sign pointing passersby to the new location, which is shielded from the road by trees.

Still, Mr. Stevens and several employees said they are not too worried about customers finding their new location. Mr. Stevens is planning on installing more signs and said he’ll advertise to let people know where the new store is located.

In the past, many customers complained about the former location, noting that a short wire fence prevented cars from directly accessing the appliance store parking lot, said Dan Nielsen, who has been working at Bob Stevens Appliances for more than 20 years. Instead, customers were directed to the traffic light near the airport’s main entrance.

Mr. Nielsen said potential customers will now have an easier time accessing the store, adding that having the warehouse and showroom under one roof also has its benefits.

Mr. Stevens said he was forced to relocate because his old store, which he had been leasing from the county, stands where Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the developers who own Rechler@Gabreski LLC, intend to build the Hampton Business and Technology Park. It is not clear if the former appliance store will be razed to make room for the industrial park.

Plans for the Hampton Business and Technology Park, a 485,000-square-foot industrial complex, include a hotel and buildings for technology-based companies. The center’s ground-breaking is scheduled for either this fall or spring 2011. The Rechler brothers signed a 40-year lease in May with Suffolk County to build and manage the technology park.

“My lease was up in September, and they gave me another 90 days,” Mr. Stevens said, referring to Suffolk County. “It’s unfortunate. We put a lot of money into that building.”

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Stevens has had problems with his lease, he said. His original agreement was supposed to start in 1999 and last for 10 years, but Mr. Stevens was not able to move in until January 2002. That’s because there was a dispute between Suffolk County and Southampton Town over which one had jurisdiction over approving the renovations Mr. Stevens was proposing to that old building, he said.

After two years of fighting, Suffolk County ended up winning that dispute. County officials were then supposed to extend Mr. Stevens’s lease for another two years, but that never happened.

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Bob Stevens is a great outfit with REAL people working there. We love them and ask that the community continues to support them. All my appliances are from Bob and we have had great service from them over the years.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Feb 23, 10 6:38 PM