After 144 years, Warner Co. farewell sale, future fizzles

Display cases once filled with jewelry  are empty at the former Warner Co. Jewelers space in Fresno’s Fig Garden Village.Display cases once filled with jewelry  are empty at the former Warner Co. Jewelers space in Fresno’s Fig Garden Village.A full month away from Valentine’s Day — when jewelry stores brace for the gift-giving rush — Warner Co. Jewelers was forced to end its going-out-of-business sale and effectively end 144 years of business in Fresno.

Warner Co. will close its final chapter as it converts its bankruptcy case from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 and liquidate all remaining assets.

“It’s sad. They were great to have in the Valley,” said competitor James Orloff of Orloff Jewelers in Fresno. “They brought awareness to the industry and what we have available here in Fresno.”

Warner Co. voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 20, 2011.

The US bankruptcy court authorized the liquidation of the entire lot of Warner Co. inventory in a sale conducted by Marsden Brothers Promotions, an Idaho-based consulting group.

However, on Jan. 5 Marsden Brothers gave Warner Co. a 7-day notice the liquidation would be discontinued because of lagging sales.

The final day of the sale was Jan. 12, and since then, Warner Co. has been packaging the remaining inventory to be returned to Marsden Brothers.

According to bankruptcy court documents, Warner Co. had about $325,000 cash on hand after the payment of all operating expenses.

But, the company owes $275,000 in unpaid wages, about $29,000 in unapproved attorney and accounting fees and there will be “little, if any,” cash available for unsecured creditors, according to the documents.

Warner Co. President Don Wolfe said he is unsure if the company name will be sold. He declined to comment further, other than to say the bankruptcy process should be wrapped up soon.

“I would imagine sometime in the next several weeks, but I don’t really know the exact time frame for that,” Wolfe said.

He added the process was taking much longer than expected.

Last November, when the court originally approved the liquidation sale, Warner attorney Hagop T. Bedoyan indicated there could be a future for the storied Fresno jeweler.

“With a 144-year-old company, the name has tremendous recognition and value in the community,” Bedoyan said in November. “It’s Mr. Wolfe’s hope and my desire to find a way for that company to continue to exist in Fresno.”

Warner Co. was established in 1867. In 1994, the store moved into a space in the Fig Garden Village, but moved in 2007 to a larger 14,000 square-foot building near the intersection of Palm and Herndon avenues in Fresno. A separate-but-related business entity developed the property, but the jeweler moved back to Fig Garden Village in 2010 to cut costs.

Orloff said he always viewed Warner Co. as a formidable competitor, and appreciated the respect it brought to the local jewelry industry, giving Valley residents viable locations 

“You’d think, ‘Damn, Warner got them,’” Orloff said when people would inform him where they purchased their jewelry. “But on the other hand, at least they got it in Fresno.”