Gottschalks confirms it has three bidders

FRESNO - Sunset has not yet fallen on Gottschalks, as at least one suitor has proposed a purchase of the Fresno-based department-store chain.

In a filing with the U.S. District Bankruptcy Court today, Gottschalks announced that three companies submitted bids for the 105-year-old company, one with plans to continue operating it as a “going concern.”

Shandong Commercial Group General Corporation, based in Shandong, China, was named as the going concern bidder. Details of its proposal — including whether it involves the prospect of closing stores or downsizing operations — were not disclosed this afternoon.

An auction for Gottschalks’ assets will be held Monday in Delaware. Earlier this month, Gottschalks accepted a “stalking horse,” or standby bid, for a consortium of liquidators who would sell the company’s merchandise and fixtures in going-out-of-business sales. A judge will be asked next Wednesday to approve the prevailing bid from the auction.

Until that time, officials warn, nothing is final.

“No bidder is fully committed until court approves their actual bid [next week],” Gottschalks Chairman and Chief Executive James Famalette said in an e-mail Wednesday night.

Gottschalks, founded in Fresno in 1904, operates 58 department stores and three specialty stores. The majority are in California, but other stores are scattered throughout Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The company employs about 5,200 people.

The other two bids both involve liquidation sales of Gottschalks’ inventory:

The “stalking horse” consortium of Great American Group LLC of Los Angeles; Hudson Capital Partners LLC, based in Massachusetts; Tiger Capital Group LLC of Boston; and SB Capital Group LLC of New York.

A joint venture between Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC of Boston; Hilco Merchant Resources LLC of Northbrook, Ill.; and Hilco Real Estate Holdings LLC, also of Northbrook, Ill.

Gottschalks and its financial advisors must now weigh which offer represents the best opportunity for the company to satisfy its obligations to creditors, although officials have expressed a preference for a going-concern sale since filing for bankruptcy protection in mid-January.

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