APPCO's Sunshine Runs Out

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. -- The struggles for the APPCO chain of convenience stores may continue, as its operating company Sunshine Energy -- which bought the chain through a bankruptcy auction in September 2009 -- filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy here last week, the Johnson City Press reported.

The action follows the repossession of some APPCO stores by its main landlord, Management Properties Inc. (MPI), which owns the land and buildings at 28 of APPCO's approximately 40 stores. The filing may delay efforts by the landlord to find another operator to run the stores, MPI official and former APPCO CEO, Jeff Benedict, told the paper. With the Chapter 11 filing, an automatic stay took effect that will prevent MPI from closing any more of the locations it owns.

"The landlords have given Sunshine Energy many opportunities to cure their lease defaults by paying the past due rents, paying the past due property taxes and complying with other terms of the leases," Benedict said in the report. "Sunshine has been unwilling or unable to take advantage of those opportunities."

He continued: "We were disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that Sunshine Energy had chosen to file bankruptcy." Benedict works with former APPCO owner Jim MacLean through MPI. A call to Sunshine Energy from CSNews Online for more information was unreturned by press time.

Benedict told the paper Sunshine was unable to stay current on rent payments, and he had been in conversations with Sunshine's owner, Jeff Greene, a Florida-based real estate financier, to sell the stores if they could not be adequately funded.

A manager of one closed APPCO location told the paper Sunshine management failed to spend enough to make the stores competitive again, and stores continued to have deferred maintenance issues, often were out of grades of gas, came close to having utilities shut off for non-payment and were understaffed.

Benedict noted those factors were among the reasons given to Greene to consider a sale.

"We are in discussions with other convenience store companies that are interested in running the stores," Benedict told the Press. "We hope to be able to select a well-qualified tenant in the near future. Unfortunately, Sunshine's bankruptcy filing may delay that process with respect to some of the stores." He added: "We will be required to go before the bankruptcy court to get permission to continue to enforce the orders of possession we have already received from the various courts in Tennessee and Virginia."

A total of three Chapter 11 filings -- each applying to separate limited liability companies that run the stores -- lists Kingsport attorney Mark Dessauer in this case, who also represented APPCO in its 2009 bankruptcy case. The judge in the cases, Judge Marcia Phillips Parsons, was also the judge of APPCO's 2009 bankruptcy filing.

A schedule listing amounts owed to unsecured creditors had not been filed as of press time, the report stated.

Regarding the store employees, Benedict said there were some "viable possibilities" for new ownership that could potentially save the jobs of some APPCO employees, the Press reported.

"We are all concerned for the employees of the stores that have been closed and those who are anxious about what the future may bring," Benedict said. "Hopefully, Sunshine's bankruptcy filing will not significantly delay the resolution of these problems."

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