Mervyns sues ex-owners, and other tales of buyout woes


When Target Stores put Mervyns on the block to sell in 2004, you'd think it would be a case of buyout-ee beware. Any entity willing to pick up the tab on a chain of failing department stores has its own best interests at heart, and is not riding in as a White Knight to save the day. But now the former owners of Mervyns are suing the private equity group that bought it for putting it out of business.

As detailed in the Wall St. Journal, (subscription required) the Mervyns team claims that Target set up the stores to fail when it cut a deal with a group of investors. The two-part transaction sold the stores and the real estate separately. The new owners then leased back the properties to the stores and effectively put them out of business with increased fees. Mervyns went into bankruptcy over the summer and will be shutting down a slew of stores.

As retail and restaurant businesses continue to fail in this sour economy, you're going to see a lot more of these stories cropping up, and probably a lot more hurt feelings. It's an economic lesson that most of us can learn something from, even for personal finances. When you are in economic trouble and seek help, the person or entity who kicks in cash to help you is likely going to take more from you in the end.

Mervyns was valuable mostly because of its real estate holdings, and so the equity group came in and took what it could from it. Mervyns failed, but that's not going to cause the owners to lose much sleep, because they can just rent out the properties to somebody else. The current mortgage crisis is being caused by similar thinking, as homeowners fail on their loans. The banks were willing to dole out bad loans because, in the end, they will own the property and can resell it for some value.