Moo and Oink scrambling to find buyer

If there are no takers, the company will be liquidated

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By LA RISA LYNCH

A Chicago grocery store that has been a staple in the black community for nearly 30 years will either be sold or face liquidation, the Austin Weekly News has learned.

A decline in sales and a sagging economy could force Moo & Oink Inc. to liquidate its assets "as soon as reasonably possible," according to a letter sent to the company's creditors on Aug. 2 by Steven Nerger, who has been appointed by the company as trustee and assignee for the benefit of creditors of Moo & Oink Inc.

Moo & Oink owns three stores in Chicago, including an Austin location at 4848 W. Madison St. The company also operates two stores on Chicago's South Side. There is a fourth store the company operates in the south suburbs. It is unclear if the suburban store is included in the possible liquidation. Nerger's letter references only the three Chicago locations.

"I expect to operate the three retail stores for a limited period of time while I attempt to sell the business," Nerger wrote in the letter. "However, if a sale cannot be completed, I will liquidate the inventory and sell the equipment and intangibles as soon as reasonably possible."

Nerger states in the letter that creditors will receive a status report on the liquidation within 60 to 90 days.

Repeated phone calls by the Austin Weekly News to Nerger at Silverman Consulting, a Skokie-based turnaround and management consulting company, were not returned.

According to the letter, in 2009 Moo & Oink incurred significant operating losses "due to poor economic conditions," losing $1 million that year and an additional $1.7 million in 2010.

Through June 2011, Moo & Oink had lost an additional $713,000, according to the letter, and "efforts to restore sales and reduce expenses sufficient to counteract the decline in gross margin dollars" had failed.

The company has $10.1 million in liabilities, according to the letter, but has assets of just $6.1 million as of June 7. The company's losses have continued to delay payments to vendors, the letter states.

Moo & Oink, incorporated in 1982, attempted to sell the business beginning in 2010, according to the letter. But the owners were unable to find a buyer interested in purchasing the retail meat company, which is famous in Chicago for its quirky television commercials and hand-cleaned chitterlings.

Austin Weekly News tried repeatedly to reach officials at Moo & Oink's corporate headquarters, located at 4100 West 40th St. A woman at the corporate office who answered the phone said she could not find anyone to direct questions to, adding that if she could find someone, that person probably wouldn't respond to questions.

A woman employed at the Madison Street store said she was not authorized to give out any information. A worker at the Madison Street store, who did not wish to be identified, said she doesn't believe the store will close, but said, "Business has been slow."

One shopper at the Madison Street location expressed concern for those who might lose their jobs, and shopper Mary Brown said the store is the only place she can go to buy her favorite whole-hog breakfast sausage.

She said she would be sad to see the store close.

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