Everything Must Go

By Mehgan Belanger

CINCINNATI -- CSNews Online has learned that Dallas-based turnaround firm CRG Partners Group LLC -- appointed in October to operate the 135-unit AmeriStop convenience store chain -- is selling all of the company's stores through the Chapter 11 process.

A bid procedures hearing is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. today at the Federal Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Ohio, to finalize the details of the sale process, according to Rob Carringer, managing partner for CRG. As of now, the process calls for bids on the first 26 stores to be due on Jan. 7, an auction held Jan. 15 and sales hearing by Jan. 17, Carringer told CSNews Online.

However, Carringer said he will advocate for the timing to be pushed back, instead making bids due Feb. 7, the auction Feb. 14 and the sale hearing on Feb. 20.

"The hearing relates to the 26 stores. Ultimately, we'll be selling everything. We hope to get everything into the same schedule to sell it all at once," he noted.

The 26 AmeriStop sites are Shell-branded and all have convenience stores with beer licenses; some have car washes, according to Carringer. Ten of the stores are located between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, north of Interstate-70, while the remainder are located in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky areas.

Parties interested in acquiring the sites can contact Carringer at (214) 215-6882, or e-mail [email protected] to be added to the bidder list.

CSNews Online originally reported on Sept. 12 that Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge William Mallory appointed a third-party receiver to handle AmeriStop's affairs after the company's president, Don Bloom, resigned from his post. When AmeriStop's parent company, Petro Acquisitions, announced it was filing for Chapter 11 on Oct. 17, CRG was selected to sell the chain. Later, the receiver quit and a new receiver was put in place, and CRG gained the role of operator.

AmeriStop's troubles stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Walnut Investment Partners, a Cincinnati-based venture capital fund that owns 45 percent of Petro Acquisitions. The suit claimed Petro Acquisitions failed to pay its share of an investment deal.

However, this was not the only lawsuit the company faced. A lawsuit in Butler County Common Pleas Court alleged that Petro Acquisitions owed KeyBank $500,000 -- a loan it took out for Liberty Distributing Co., which it failed to pay.

Additional problems were occurring at the store level. In early September, CSNews Online was the first to report that the chain was suffering from two separate problems that had caught the eye of local media. A number of AmeriStop franchise locations saw gas deliveries from the parent company stop because those operators had not yet signed lease agreements and were not making deposits.

In addition, a separate issue over contracts with Coca-Cola was also plaguing the chain, which saw Coke products disappear from the shelves. As a result, 25 franchisees representing 44 stores are suing the chain, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

An "informal agreement" was reached that allowed franchisees to use store cash to pay for deliveries as they arrived so the stores can stay stocked and open, Marcia Andrew, the lawyer representing the franchisees, told the newspaper.
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