Steve And Barry's, Bankruptcy And "Sampsonite” T-shirts

Steve & Barry’s, the miracle retailer that sold everything new at bargain basement prices, is contemplating filing for bankruptcy.

And while making that move would not necessarily mean the end to the business, which grew to more than 250 stores and might now have to shut some of them, it does mean that anyone who hasn’t gotten paid isn’t too happy right now.

The number of creditors could be a large list, considering the fact that the company used many outside vendors to support its robust creative T-shirt franchise.

And while I didn’t necessarily hear the stories of those who got wealthy off the model set up by Steve & Barry’s--which started out as a sports retailer and eventually moved to a more general value superstore--I’m starting to hear the human stories from some people now.

Filing for bankruptcy is just a term if it’s not personal to you. But people like Matt Kesten aren’t too thrilled with their chances to get back what was owed to them if that’s the next step for Steve & Barry’s.

Kesten is a 23-year-old entrepreneur, who started a sports promotional products company called Hoosier Beat after graduating from Indiana University. After the school hired Kelvin Sampson to be their head basketball coach, Kesten received approval from Sampson to, without royalty owed, make “Sampsonite” T-shirts.

In November, three months before Sampson was forced to resign because of recruiting violations, Steve & Barry’s in Bloomington, Ind., took an order of 2,592 of Kesten’s “Sampsonite” T-shirts and agreed to pay $12,312 within 60 days.

“They told me a check was cut on December 28th,” Kesten said. “But they told me that it was awaiting a signature.” Kesten was told the only person who signed the checks at the company was co-founder Barry Prevor.

Weeks went by and Kesten was promised it was coming. Over the last four months, he says the exact status of his check became more vague and it has been impossible to get a phone call returned from the company.

“It was only in the past week where they set up an inquiry line,” Kesten said. “I assume that was done for the hundreds of people like myself who are just trying to get through to get the money that was owed to them.”

Like most who did business with S&B’s, Kesten saw the company as the next Wal-Mart, so the recent news that the company was in jeopardy of filing for bankruptcy came out of nowhere. That combined with the fact that Sampson’s resignation left Kesten with boxes of shirts he can’t sell makes this latest twist hard to swallow.

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