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The Uncommon Sense of Levin Deal

May 2020 | Trib Living

Let's try this again.

Way back in February, Levin Furniture was in danger of closing, but owners of the Art Van Furniture company that purchased it in 2017 said not to worry - everything was "business as usual" and a solution would be found.

That solution, as it turned out in March, was a combination of bankruptcy court for the rest of the Michigan/-based Art Van empire and Robert Levin, the former Levin's owner who was looking to reacquire his family's business. With 1,200 jobs saved and customers who had paid for orders being protected, the celebrations began.

Less than two weeks later, Art Van said the deal collapsed, shuttering the stores and letting the employees go. Levin, however, said he wasn't giving up.

Incidentally, that was the day after the stock market fell off a cliff, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping more than 900 points as investors panicked about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on America's economy. It was a week after Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools and as businesses all over Pennsylvania were trying to figure out how to work with social distancing.

It was, to be frank, not a great time to think about taking on a few dozen big-ticket retail locations. Who does that?

Apparently, Levin does. While other business owners were looking at closing doors, he spent the next two months figuring out how to reopen the ones that bear his family name. On Tuesday, he announced it was happening. Again.

And this time, it's backed up by a court filing. Bankruptcy trustee Alfred T. Giuliano filed a motion Monday recommending the court approve the sale. The $25.7 million bid includes $10 million to correct the losses suffered by more than 1,000 customers who gave Art Van's owners money for furniture never received.

Giuliano called that "very uncommon."

Everything about Levin's effort is uncommon.

A successful businessman, Levin's deal is not an effort at high-priced philanthropy - although he did put $2 million from the nonprofit Howard Levin Memorial Fund Inc. to work making $1,575 grants to Pennsylvania Levin's and Wolf Furniture employees after the first deal fell through.

He is partnering with the Schultz family, who is the force behind Ashley Furniture in Western Pennsylvania. It has been a complicated dance of money and law to pull this together. It's about making an industry Levin understands well work again, which he says will be built not just on bed frames and coffee tables but on service.

Service industries are what have taken the biggest hits during the pandemic shutdowns, but they are also among the biggest employers in the United States. Americans appreciate good service and tend to reward it with loyal customers, so Levin's effort is not just dollars and cents. It's good marketing.

It's also a model for other retailers moving forward. It says that an industry heavyweight sees a path forward. It just takes commitment, cooperation and a little uncommon sense.

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