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Movie Financier Hedge Fund Files for Chapter 11 Over Increasing Litigation Costs

by Justin A. Saporito, Law Clerk

Aramid Entertainment Fund, Limited filed for Chapter 11 protection in the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on June 13, 2014.  Debtor has declared assets of $237.3 million and consolidated debt of $11.5 million.  Debtor was assigned case number 1:14-bk-11802, a judge has yet to be assigned.  Approximately 96 creditors were listed in the petition; among them are several other Aramid entities including Aramid Liquidating Trust, Ltd. and Aramid Entertainment, Inc. which jointly filed with the Debtor and were assigned consecutive case numbers.

aramid-logo-618x400                    Aramid Entertainment Fund, Limited is part of Aramid Capital Partners, LLP, a London based hedge fund that specializes in financing movies.  According to their website, Aramid Capital has provided financing for thirty-two (32) movies including Paranormal Activity, W., and How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.  Please click here for a list of their productions.

                   Debtor filed for Chapter 11 protection due to the cost of ongoing litigation against several of its borrowers who failed to repay loans or violated film-financing agreements.  One such suit began in February 2012 and is over an alleged $44 million in losses.  Debtor invested $22 million in a financing deal between Relativity Media, LLC and Sony Pictures.  Debtor alleges that executives from Fortress Investment Group, LLC used Aramid’s confidential information, which was allegedly obtained during a 2010 portfolio review as part of a proposed purchase of Debtor’s assets, to make a deal with Sony that destroyed Debtor’s investments.

                     Debtor and its affiliates are represented by James C. McCarroll, a partner at Reed Smith, LLP who specializes in Financial Industry, Commercial Restructuring, and Bankruptcy.

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“Dance Moms” Instructor Abby Lee Miller Files for Chapter 11 Protection: Public Disclosure of Private Facts

By: Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer

Salene’s Preface: I was in Bankruptcy Court last week in Pittsburgh and noticed Abby walking into Court.  (She is a stunning woman by the way and you can understand why she is on TV).  I had to ask myself, “How do I know her?”  I did figure it out pretty quickly.   I was surprised to see her on my turf (that is in the world of commercial bankruptcy) and was not aware that Abby had filed for Ch. 11.  My daughter is a dancer and I watch the show! 

Abigale Lee Miller filed for Chapter 11 relief on January 3rd, 2011.  The petition was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania under petition number: 10-28606 TPA and has been overseen by the Honorable Judge Thomas P. Agresti.

Debtor is better known as Abby Lee Miller, the host and instructor for the popular Lifetime reality television show Dance Moms.  The show follows a group mothers and their young daughters who are participating in the world of young competitive dance.  The show takes place in Pittsburgh, PA at the debtor’s studio, the Abby Lee Dance Company, and follows the ladies as they travel across the country to various competitions.  Dance Moms is currently holding open casting calls for its 4th season.

dance-moms-banner-85373The Abby Lee Dance Company was formed 27 years ago as a not-for-profit organization and is an audition only program.  It is located at 7123 Saltsburg Road, Pittsburgh, PA, 15235.  Debtor is also the owner of Reign Dance Productions, which shares the building with The Abby Lee Dance Company.

Debtor has declared approximately $325,500 in assets with approximately $356,500 in liabilities.   Thirty-four creditors are listed in the petition, with Chase Mortgage holding the largest unsecured claim in the amount of $50,000.   This debt is the unsecured portion of what appears to be a $200,000 undersecured mortgage on a home of Ms. Miller’s in Florida valued at $150k.   Ms. Miller’s dance studio has a $96,000 mortgage on it; the studio is valued at around $150,000  Ms. Miller owes about $27,000 in back taxes (which are unsecured priority claims).  Her unsecured debt only totals $32,000, many of whom are vendors for her business.

The Second Amended Disclosure Statement was approved on January 18th, 2013 and the Order Approving Disclosure Statement and Scheduling Hearing on Plan Confirmation was entered into on October 21st, 2013.  Please click here to for a copy of the order.  The debtor is represented by Donald R. Calaiaro of Calaiaro & Corbett, P.C.  The Confirmation Hearing to approve her Plan of Reorganization is set for December 12, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. EST.  Please click here for a copy of the Disclosure Statement.  A summary of the Chapter 11 plan can be found here.

Salene’s comment:   We purposefully do not often write blog posts about individual Chapter 11 cases (usually filed by very wealth individuals.  Most folks file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13).  When a company or person files for bankruptcy,  I warn my clients that you are subjecting yourselves to a “financial autopsy”; you are making a public filing of all of your assets and liabilities.  So, information seekers can look up what your home is worth, what kind of car you drive,  how much credit card debt you have, whether you own a fur coat, how much your wedding ring costs, and whether you have any money in an IRA/401k.  Anyone can see how much money you have made in the last three years and they get to read what your monthly budget is for expenses.   While there are certainly benefits to the privilege of filing for bankruptcy, public disclosure of private facts is certainly one of the drawbacks.

Fat Lady May Sing for the Last Time: The New York City Opera Files Chapter 11

By:  Justin A. Saporito, MAZURKRAEMER Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

New York City Opera, Inc. filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on October 3rd, 2013.  The petition was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.  The case was assigned to the Honorable Judge Stuart M. Bernstein under case # 1:13-bk-13240.  Among the motions filed with the petition was a motion to authorize debtor to refund pre-paid tickets.  Please click here for a docket summary.

New York City Opera, Inc. was dubbed “The People’s Opera” by former NYC Mayor new_york_city_opera_zoom945Fiorello LaGuardia.  It has hosted and performed traditional and contemporary operas since its founding in 1943.  Debtor filed for Chapter 11 protection due to a projected $44.1 million deficit for 2012 and a combination of a troubled economy, decreased donations, and increasing pension obligations.  The debtor raised approximately $1.5 million from an online fund-raising campaign (Kickstarter), but required $7 million by the end of September in order to fund itself through the end of the year.  The board and management have begun necessary financial and operational steps to wind down the company with no plans to borrow in order to fund the 2014 season.

Debtor claims assets and liabilities of between $1 and $10 million and 93 creditors including New York City Ballet, Inc. and the New York City Dept. of Finance.  Please refer to the docket summary for a complete list of creditors.  The debtor is represented by Kenneth A. Rosen and Nicole Stefanelli of Lowenstein Sandler LLP.

Debtor's Attorney Nicole Stefanelli


Salene and NYC Opera Debtor’s Attorney Nicole Stefanelli

Salene had the privilege of hanging out with Nicole over the weekend in NYC.   Nicole and Salene had met at the American Bankruptcy Institute this past Spring.  They were also friends via Twitter.   Nicole said that this Chapter 11 filing has been published in newspapers all over the world.  She also said that her firm was doing the representation PRO BONO.  She will be handling first day motions on Thursday!

This will definitely be an interesting case to watch.

Chapter 11 Debtors Beware: Do Not Fail to Pay Quarterly Fees Owed to the U.S. Trustee

By:  Justin Saporito, Law Clerk and Salene Mazur Kraemer, Owner

U.S. DOJ seal

What fees are associated with filing a Chapter 11 case? Aside from payment of attorneys’ fees (which can be steep), there are filing fees and ongoing quarterly administrative fees.

For a chapter 11 case, quarterly fees must be paid to the U.S. Trustee each quarter, or fraction thereof, until that case is closed, dismissed, or converted.  These fees are in addition to the filing fee that must be paid by the debtor.  The amount owed by the debtor is based upon the amount of disbursements made during the quarter starting at a minimum of $325 with a maximum of $30,000.  (Complete breakdown of quarterly fees w/ instructions.)   Again we repeat, there is a minimum payment of at least $325 a quarter.   If significant assets are sold, a debtor may be looking at a quarterly fee up to $13,000 or even $30,000 to be made payable to the U.S. Trustee’s office.  The fee schedule is uniform for all Federal Judicial Districts that are a part of the U.S. Trustee Program which includes all Federal Judicial Districts except for Alabama and North Carolina.

Quarterly fee bills are mailed to the debtor by the U.S. Trustee at the end of each quarter with instructions on how to determine the amount of fees owed.  These fees are due on the last day of the calendar month following the calendar quarter.  The minimum fee is due even if no disbursements were made that quarter and failure to pay a quarterly fee is cause for conversion or dismissal of the chapter 11 case.  Failure to receive an invoice does not excuse the obligation to timely pay U.S. Trustee’s fees.  Debtor’s counsel should contact the Office of the U.S. Trustee If a quarterly bill is not received, unless counsel for the debtor has executed an authorization allowing the U.S. Trustee to discuss the issue of quarterly fees with the debtor.

For payments made by check, the payment is converted to an electronic funds transfer (EFT).  This means that the account information will be copied from the check to electronically debit the debtor’s account for the amount of the check.  The debit usually occurs within 24 hours after which the original check is destroyed.  A copy of the check will be made by the U.S. Trustee’s Office however.  If the EFT cannot be process due to technical reasons, the debtor authorizes the U.S. Trustee’s Office to process the copy in place of the original check.  If the EFT cannot be completed due to insufficient funds, two more attempts to make the transfer may be made.

TIPS FOR THE CHAPTER 11 DEBTOR:  Payment of these U.S. Trustees fees is important.  The U.S. Trustee is an agent of the Department of Justice.  He or she is a lawyer who plays a critical and influential role in every Chapter 11 Case (more on this later).  Do not overlook paying these fees or responding to any requests made by a U.S. Trustee.   If a Debtor ignores such requests or fails to pay U.S. Trustee fees, the Debtor can almost be certain that a Motion to Dismiss the Case or Convert the Chapter 11 Case to  Chapter 7 Case (liquidation) will be forthcoming.

Prithvi Catalytic, Inc., an IT Consulting and Engineering Firm, Files Ch. 11 in Pittsburgh

prithvi_logo_10By:  Justin Saporito, Law Clerk

On September 10th, 2013 Prithvi Catalytic, Inc. filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 in the United States Bankruptcy Court  for the Western District of Pennsylvania, which was incomplete.  Statements A-J, Statement of Operations, Summary of Schedules, and Tax Information are due by September 24th, 2013 and a Chapter 11 Plan is due by January 8th, 2014.  Debtor claimed assets between $1 million to $10 million with liabilities ranging from $10 million to $50 million.

The Debtor is a multi-national IT Consulting and Engineering solutions company that began operations in 1998 with its registered office in Hyderabad, India and opened its first U.S. office near Seattle, WA in 2000.  The Debtor expanded operations with new development centers and sales offices in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, India, South Africa, and the Middle East.  Debtor focuses its strategic business in the healthcare, retail, BFSI (banking, financial services, and insurance), and telecom markets and provides services in Europe in addition to the regions where it maintains offices.

A total of fifty-four creditors are listed on the Debtor’s petition including  the District of Columbia, various Departments from 22 different U.S. states, the federal government, and several private companies.  Click here for  Complete list of Creditors and summary of docket.

Debtor is represented by Louis P. Vitti of Vitti & Vitti & Associates, PC located at 215 Fourth Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  The Office of the United States Trustee Liberty Center  shall be represented by Kathleen Robb located at Suite 970 1001 Liberty Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

Inside the Trenches of a Chapter 11: The Firehose of the First 30 Days

fire-hydrant-flushing    The first 30 days of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case often are like water spewing violently out of a fire hydrant.  Fast.   Furious.  Urgent.  Many issues being thrown at the Debtor, its employees, and its lawyers at one time.

According to the Pre-Bankruptcy Planning for the Commercial Reorganization: A Brief Guide for the CEO, CFO/COO, General Counsel and Tax Advisor, written by the Reorganization and Restructuring Group of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, LLP (2nd edition, 2008), a whopping 83 percent of chapter 11 reorganizations that are filed generally “die on the vine” and are never confirmed.

I purchased this Brief Guide at the American Bankruptcy Institute that I attended this past Spring and I thought I would write a few blog posts integrating my experience with the concise content of the book.  As set forth on Appendix A to the Guide, generally certain matters must be addressed within the first 30 days of a case.

  • Petition filed
  • Filing of list of 20 largest creditors
  • Applications for retention of professionals (attorneys, accountants, turnaround professionals, valuation specialists, real estate brokers).  A Debtor cannot pay a professional unless the retention of the firm is first approved by the Judge and the professional files a fee application on the docket, to which parties may review and/or object.
  • Filing of ”first day” motions (seeking authority to pay wages, use pre-petition bank accounts, pay deposits for utilities, use of cash collateral, payment of interim compensation to professionals)
  • Filing of schedules of assets and liabilities and statement of financial affairs.  Getting correct addresses and dollar amounts owed for every single creditor often is a daunting task.  Once the Schedules are filed, a creditor matrix is generated. The Bankruptcy Court and parties in interest use this address list to mail or “serve” important pleadings in the case. If the matrix is enormous, certain limited servicing lists can be authorized by the Court. In mega-cases, servicing agents are employed by the Debtor to handle only this aspect of the case, i.e., proper service.
  • Filing of Corporate Resolution authorizing the Chapter 11 filing
  • Negotiation of debtor in possession financing
  • Hearing on use of cash collateral and adequate protection
  • Negotiation with trade creditors regarding reclamation claims and/or reestablishment of trade terms.

The first few weeks of a case can be exhausting and dramatic.  Often, by the time a petition is filed, a debtor runs out of money and payroll has not been paid (therefore employees are angry and morale is low), bank accounts frozen, the utilities have been shut off, and/or the front doors have been padlocked by a creditor.   Once a case is filed, a creditor may immediately file a motion to dismiss the case.

The filing of the petition and related schedules requires a financial autopsy of a business and all of its related entities. In order to avoid confusion down the road, Debtor’s counsel should try to obtain as much factually accurate information as possible during this time. The process requires persistence, diligence and coordination with the Debtor’s employees, who basically become your co-workers for as long as the case is open, which could be 18 months or longer.

During this critical time, management and key employees must be counseled regarding what to do and not do, now that the actions of the Debtor are under close scrutiny by not only a Judge but also a U.S. Trustee as well as the creditor body. Employees should be clear regarding what transfers may or may not be made without court approval.  Also, at the same time, the U.S. Trustee’s Office dictates that a debtor comply with its financial reporting requirements (hence the required “Monthly Operating Report”), and the filing of insurance and bank account information.  Lack of compliance may lead to a dismissal of the case or a conversion to a Chapter 7.  Often the debtor must close pre-petition bank accounts and open new ones.

Keeping all constituencies informed is an important part of the role of Debtor’s counsel.  Creditors may include key lenders and critical vendors who will want to know what the turnaround strategy is for the company. Once creditors receive the “Notice of Suggestion of Bankruptcy”, they too will be scurrying around to hire bankruptcy lawyers if the size of their claims warrants such an expense.

“FORE!” – Beulah Road Land Company Files for Chapter 11

BY: Katie Imler

On July 26, 2013 Beulah Road Land Company filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the Western District of Pennsylvania (Case No. 2:13-bk-23148).  The Debtor, located at 800 Beulah Road, Pittsburgh, Pa 15235, is the new majority owner of the land on which the Churchill Valley Country Club sits.  The Debtor has been fighting with creditors of the club, as to who owns the 147-acre property.   These creditors forced Churchill Valley Country Club into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy (Case No. 13-23122 filed July 25, 2013).  At the same time, Zokaites Properties, Inc. recently purchased the outstanding $1.2 million mortgage held on the club and property from PNC Bank.  A local lawyer and ex-business partner of Zokaites is challenging this transfer.Image

The Beulah bankruptcy case has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Carlota M. Bohm. In the petition signed by the Debtor’s President Richard Hersberger, the Debtor listed $1-$10 million in assets and $1-$10 million in liabilities.  All Schedules are due August 9, 2013.  The Chapter 11 Plan and Disclosure Statement are due November 25, 2013.  On August 1, 2013, creditor Zokaites Properties, Inc. by and through its attorney Jeffrey Hulton, made a motion to dismiss the bankruptcy case.  There will be a hearing regarding the motion to dismiss on August 9, 2013 at 3:00pm.

The largest creditors include several law firms, the Penn Hills School District, PNC Bank, and the Woodland Hill School District.

The Debtor is represented by Donald R. Calaiaro of Calaiaro & Corbett, P.C. located at 310 Grant Street, Suite 1105, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. The US Trustee is represented by Norma Hildenbrand located at Suite 970 Liberty Center, 1001 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

StonePepper’s Grill in Robinson Twp. files for Chapter 11

Settlers Ridge No. 3, L.P. files for Chapter 11

By Katie Imler, Law Clerk

On May 13, 2013, StonePepper’s Grill, formally known as Settlers Ridge No. 3, L.P., of 1738 North Highland Road, Pittsburgh, PA  15241 filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, assigned Case No. 13-22082-CMB. The case has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Carlota M. Bohm.

 Stonepepper Grill's LogoStonePepper’s Grill is a restaurant that serves brick-oven pizza and won the 2012 Best Burger in Upper St. Clair Contest. The restaurant chain has three (3) locations in Upper Saint Clair, Mars, and Robinson Township. The only location effected by this filing is the Robinson Township location. Counsel for the Debtor is Robert O. Lampl, located at 960 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Lampl’s disclosed hourly rate is $400/hour.

A summary of the docket for the case can be viewed here.

The Debtor has elected to be considered a “small business debtor, ” defined under Bankruptcy Code § 101(51D)(A) as a person engaged in commercial or business activities who as of the date of petition filing or order of relief has an aggregate non-contingent liquidated secured and unsecured debts in an amount not more than $2,000,000.00 (excluding debts owed to 1 or more affiliates or insiders). See also Bankruptcy Code § 1116. The bankruptcy filing showed liabilities and assets between $100,000.00 -$500,000.00. The Debtor listed the largest unsecured debts as $93,940.00 in Employer Withholding, $78,775.00 in Loans to owner Jeff Joyce, $77,535.00 in PA Sales Tax, and $38,465.00 in Business Debt to CRK Management LLC, who also employs Jeff Joyce. It also has a Business Debt of $77,613.00 payable to Settlers Ridge Leased, LP.

      A hearing will take place on June 25, 2013 in regards to confirmation of employing Debtor’s counsel. The Chapter 11 Small Business Plan and Disclosure Statement are due November 12, 2013.

Ch. 7 or Ch. 11: Which Bankruptcy Option Is Best For My Business?

CO-AUTHORS: Katie Imler and Salene Kraemer

Let’s face it, all businesses face challenges. Especially when the economy is not a booming bull, financial challenges are in abundance. You are not alone. So what do you do when your company has financial troubles staring you down? What do you do when going to work every day puts you and your family deeper in debt instead of adding money to your bank account? At some point, the best business decision you can make may be the decision to no longer do business.

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What do you do?  Well, there are a few options:  1) Sell the business to a competitor, strategic business, or key employee; 2) File for Chapter 7 bankruptcy; 3) Wind-down the company yourself. We want to talk about the latter two options. Before taking action, both avenues have advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed.

Avenue 7. Filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy means that a Bankruptcy Trustee employed by Office of the United States Trustee of the Department of Justice, steps into the shoes of the company and has the burden of winding-down the business.  In doing so, the Trustee is in control of distributing the business assets according to the Bankruptcy Code.

Perks of Chapter 7:

  • Upon filing a petition for Chapter 7, an automatic stay is imposed preventing lawsuits and writs of execution against business assets –think of it as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.” This preserves the vital business assets and provides peace of mind that the business will not have to defend against future legal actions arising from pre-petition debts
  • The Bankruptcy Court assumes the burden of notifying all creditors of the bankruptcy (sending the “funeral notice”, if you will).  Having this objective third party serve as a buffer between the business owner and the unpaid creditor provides a sense of relief to the business owner
  • Debtor benefits from expertise of an experienced Bankruptcy Trustee
  • Debt forgiveness is not taxable

Downsides of Chapter 7:

  • Business management has no control in the winding-down
  • Trustee will scrutinize the pre-petition financial and operational affairs of the Debtor
  • Instead of finding a strategic buyer who may pay more for business assets, a trustee may liquidate business assets for pennies on the dollar, called a “fire sale”
  • Trustee may abandon certain assets letting creditors with an interest in them duke it out
  • Since the Trustee assumes the place of the debtor, he or she also assumes all of the debtor’s legal claims. The debtor, therefore, may be without standing to pursue a future lawsuit arising out of pre-petition transactions, unless otherwise agreed
  • Furthermore, filing for bankruptcy creates a public record and may pick up media attention, depending upon your business
  • Time and monetary costs are also associated with Chapter 7.  In addition to attorney’s fees, the filing fee alone is $306 and the Debtor will have to pay Trustee’s fees if there are assets for the Trustee to liquidate. Plus, the Trustee’s fees come off the top of liquidation proceeds before any distributions to creditors are made.

The Wind-Down Alternative.  If you are a do-it-yourself personality, then the Wind-down approach may be the approach for you. In this scenario, you control the winding-down process of the company and pay off the debts. However, this do-it-yourself project may require a thick skin and much cooperation from your creditors and lessors.Image

Perks of Non-Bankruptcy Wind-down:

  • Winding-Down the business yourself avoids the legal and bankruptcy fees
  • Business owner retains control and does not expose dirty laundry to the public
  • Business avoids scrutiny by the Trustee
  • Higher likelihood that you, the business owner with the industry know-how, will find a better buyer in the market who is willing to pay more for business assets

Downsides of Non-Bankruptcy Wind-down:

  • Creditors may initiate an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against your business
  • Business must comply with state laws for dissolving which are usually more demanding than the Bankruptcy Code and take longer to execute. If liquidation is done incorrectly, the business can be exposed to lawsuits for dishonoring creditors’ legal rights
  • Business owner personally deals with all of the creditors and is responsible for all issues that arise.
  • Debt forgiveness is taxable outside of bankruptcy

Now, do you file for Chapter 7 or Wind-down? In some cases, a hybrid approach may be best. Go as far as feasible in the liquidation process on your own, and then turn it over to a Trustee or a bankruptcy  lawyer to finish the job.  Weigh which option suits your needs the most, reflecting upon your unique business, the nature and amount of the debt that your business still owes, and your personal capabilities.  And, as always, it is best to first consult with your attorney.

MAZURKRAEMER represents debtors and creditors in bankruptcy courts all over the country. The information, comments and links posted on this blog do not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been or will be formed by any communication(s) to, from or with the blog and/or the blogger. For legal advice, contact an attorney at MAZURKRAEMER or an attorney actively practicing in your jurisdiction.

The Weirton Steel Chapter 11 Bankruptcy & My 20-Minute Conversation with Gretchen Weir

NOTE:  This is not necessarily related to bankruptcy.  But, on second thought, maybe it is.  Just short of its 100th birthday, Weirton Steel Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Northern District of West Virginia (Wheeling) on May 19, 2003.   Here the NY Times article published the day after the filing.  As detailed in the Weirton Steel wikipedia entry, by bankruptcy court order, the assets were auctioned with most being acquired by ISG. ISG then formed a new division called ISG Weirton Steel. On April 5, 2005, ISG completed a merger with Mittal Steel.  Then again in 2006, Mittal Steel completed a merger with Arcelor thus resulting in a new company known as Arcelor Mittal. While I was practicing bankruptcy in Philadelphia at the time of the initial bankruptcy filing, I would then relocate to Pittsburgh in 2004 and work for a boutique commercial bankruptcy firm who served as counsel to the creditors’ committee in the Weirton Steel Ch. 11 case.  I was raised in Weirton, West Virginia and returned last year (after 21 years away) to open a law office there.

Life-Magazine-1937-09-13      So I attended the Weirton Festival of Nations this past Saturday. I had to man the Rotary booth. I brought along my children.

Weirton Steel

Weirton Steel

I had the privilege of sitting next to E.T. Weir’s lovely wife Gretchen at the Festival. Her late husband was the grandson of E.T. Weir, who founded the Weirton Steel Corporation. He is the man after whom our town and high school were named. Gretchen Weir traveled here with her dynamic daughter from New York City to donate memorabilia to the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center and to address the audience as a part of the opening ceremony for the Festival. She and I talked about many things.   I told her what it was like growing up in Weirton and what it is like now. I have reflected much about my upbringing in Weirton and my continued close bonds with my childhood friends.IMG_3298[1]Gretchen asked me to what extent the mill was still operating and I said I wasn’t exactly sure but, to my relief, I see smoke sputtering out of a few remaining stacks. I told her my mom and I drove down Main Street just on Friday and shuttered when we noticed another part of the mill had been demolished.

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Festival of Nations

I explained Weirton was, at one time (and probably still is), one of the most ethnically diverse towns in the state of West Virginia. There were numerous ethnic enclaves- Italian, Greeks, Polish, Serbs, etc. The Festival this weekend was a celebration of this diversity. Performances, foods, booths, etc. My children and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I was a kid we used to have the “International Food Festival” each July. It was a 3-4 day event. I used to LOVE it. I still have my “half-Italian” red, green and white pin. I told Gretchen that Weirton was so unique because there were not significant economic disparities (i.e, the haves and have nots). Most all of our pops, of course, worked in the mill; our moms had to quit working once they got married (!!! ). Most families were in the middle class and experiencing a similar way of life. Weirton native Anna Egan Smucker wrote a lovely children’s book title NO STAR NIGHTS about growing in Weirton, this way of life. I happened to borrow it from the local Mary H. Weir library çand have been reading it to my children for the past few weeks.

rotary flag

Me at my Law Office in Weirton

Gretchen and her daughter were kind and interested and enthusiastic about urban renewal and where Weirton can go from here. Gretchen even let me take a photo with her to post to Facebook!!This post is a chapter in a turnaround story about urban renewal and the evolution of a small steel mill town.   TO BE CONTINUED …

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Weir High School Logo