A federal judge cleared the way Wednesday for Bashas’ to use the cash it has on hand to keep the store shelves stocked, at least for the time being.
Attorney Michael McGrath told Marlar that failure to unfreeze the accounts would result in store supplies being depleted without the ability to restock. That, in turn, would affect the ability of Bashas’ to retain customers and stay in business.
It also means the money is there to keep paying employees, not only the approximately $5 million they were due for the week just prior to filing for bankruptcy protection but also going forward.
But that cash won’t last long: Company President Mike Proulx said the chain probably spends $25 million a week on groceries and other supplies and another $5 million in salaries and fringe benefits.
McGrath said, though, Bashas’ has authority to use the cash that has been coming in since the bankruptcy filing and which continues to come in to pay future bills.
If that isn’t enough, however, the company already has obtained what essentially amounts to a line of credit from Grace Financing Group. That limited liability company was established just last week by its parent, Grace Development Co., specifically to deal with Bashas’.
“We have a $45 million facility that is there should we need to tap that for operations,’’ McGrath said. “For a vendor, an employee or one of our customers, there’s plenty of capital to continue uninterrupted.’’
So far, though, Marlar has not agreed to allow Bashas’ to tap that money. Attorney Robert Miller, representing several banks who are owed money by the grocery chain, filed an objection.
His concern is not so much that Bashas’ will have access to more cash but that the agreement gives Grace “ill-defined rights’’ to buy all of the chain’s property at certain pre-determined prices any time the company taps that line of credit for at least $16 million. Miller said Grace should not get that automatic option.
McGrath acknowledged that the deal his client originally made with Grace Financing does allow that lender to obtain the property “in exchange for forgiveness of the money they’re lending us.’’ But to get around the objections, he said that agreement will be modified: Other creditors would get notice of any plan to sell off company land and the deal would be subject to court approval.
Marlar will review the proposed language on at a hearing set for Friday.
The 77-year-old company filed for protection from creditors late Sunday, blaming the state’s economic woes and the tight national credit market. Proulx said the filing will give the company the time to review its operations in light of those conditions without fear of running out of money and make necessary changes for how it intends to operate in the black and pay off its debts.
That could include closing more stores than the 10 announced earlier this week that will be shuttered no later than July 23.
“All of our remaining stores are being evaluated,’’ he said. “In the coming month or so, we will be coming to some conclusions as to whether there will be any additional closures.’’
McGrath said a bankruptcy filing allows a debtor to repudiate any contracts — including leases — that are “burdensome or unprofitable.’’ Only 35 of the 158 stores now open are in buildings and on land owned outright by Bashas’.
Other than possible future store closures, McGrath said the bankruptcy proceeding, which could last until early next year, should be invisible to shoppers, with the possible exception that employees will be working harder to please.
“They’re probably going to find everything that they need on the shelf,’’ he said. “But they’re going to find friendlier, more accommodating employees who have traditionally been the best service in the grocery business in Arizona.’’