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Catalog-showroom chain closes last stores

February 10, 1997 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Best Products Co., a retail chain driven into bankruptcy when shoppers lost interest in its catalog showroom approach, closed the last of its stores over the weekend.

``This is a real tragedy in retailing,″ said Raymond Zimmerman, chairman and chief executive officer of Service Merchandise Co., the nation’s last catalog showroom retailer.

Best, which had once been the No. 2 catalog business after Service Merchandise, had 180 stores in 23 states where customers could view starkly displayed sample merchandise.

The concept faltered when larger discount chains like Wal-Mart offered similar merchandise and competitive prices in more attractive settings. Richmond-based Best filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors in September.

Many of the customers on the final days were not there to look at the odd dishes, necklaces and Christmas merchandise still sitting on the mostly barren shelves. They came to say goodbye to some of the 11,000 people who worked in Best stores, like LaVerne Ellis of the original Richmond store’s jewelry department.

``She treated me like I was family,″ customer Maryanne Orr said. ``It was never a business relationship. She wasn’t interested in the sale, but in me.″

Ms. Ellis said many employees thought something would happen to keep the stores open.

``This is the end of a dynasty, and unlike an execution where you might get a last-minute reprieve, there was none for Best,″ she said.