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Century-Old Maine Shoe Company Up For Sale

March 3, 1987

WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) _ Chesebrough-Pond’s Inc. said Tuesday it wants to sell its Maine-based Bass shoe division, best-known for the popular Weejun loafer, but has not yet found an interested buyer.

Chesebrough, whose products include such household names as Vaseline skin lotions, Ragu spaghetti sauce and Prince tennis rackets, said retention of its footwear operation was not in keeping with long-term corporate strategy.

″We’re concentrating more on the personal care category,″ said Daria Sheehan, manager of consumer programs.

Chesebrough has ″several″ potential buyers, she said, ″but we can’t comment on anyone specifically.″

The sale of Bass would be Chesebrough’s second major divestment in a year and a half. In September 1985 the company sold its Health-tex children’s clothing division to a management group. hich are larger and more efficient. The move is being challenged by the union representing the 1,000 Maine workers who stand to lose their jobs.

G.H. Bass & Co., with headquarters in Falmouth, Maine, has been in operation since 1876. A family-owned company for most of its history, it was acquired by Chesebrough in 1978.

Chesebrough itself was recently taken over by the U.S. subsidiary of Unilever, the giant British conglomerate whose lines of food and personal care products are compatible with those of Chesebrough.

Bass, with 1986 sales totalling $170 million, has its primary plant in Wilton, Maine. A smaller plant in Rumford, Maine, has closed and a plant in Berlin, N.H., is being phased out, Ms. Sheehan said. The company has a total of 3,000 employees.

In keeping with recent trends within the industry, Bass has shifted some of its production outside the United States by opening a plant in Puerto Rico.

At the same time, Bass has expanded into the retail end of the shoe business, opening 117 outlet and full-price ″concept″ stores throughout the country and launching a shop-by-mail catalog division, according to Ms. Sheehan.

Although women’s shoes account for most of the production, the company is best-known for the Weejun loafer, introduced 50 years ago and still a favorite on prep school and college campuses and in the business world.

Shearson, Lehman Brothers Inc., the New York investment banking firm, is advising Chesebrough on the proposed sale.

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