Couples Race to Redeem Registries in Barneys Bankruptcy
Samantha Wadell, a 33-year-old lawyer with Weiss Wexler & Wornow, had a looming task ahead of her Thursday night after finishing her last case of the day in a Brooklyn court. She had only two hours to spend nearly $9,000 at Barneys New York.
But this wasn’t a Carrie Bradshaw-style dream come true. Rather, Ms. Wadell and her husband, Amir Naderi, who live in Manhattan, were among the untold number of couples who had wedding registries at Barneys and were left scrambling this week after the high-end retailer was sold for parts on Nov. 1.
Many of the gifts, from luxuriant water pitchers to pristine salad bowls, cannot be fulfilled as the chain liquidates, leaving couples with store credit instead. Barneys, however, did not communicate this to customers — or the fact that the credit, including gift cards, would stop being accepted after Thursday based on a court order, potentially extinguishing hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars in wedding gifts.
“I’m going to go there today and shop like a madwoman,” said Ms. Wadell, who only learned about her credit Thursday morning after being contacted by a reporter. “What surprises me most is that no one notified us sooner about this last-minute necessity to redeem our credit — now or never.”
The Barneys gift registry, a longtime favorite of chic city dwellers, seems to have been forgotten in the aftermath of the once-iconic retailer’s bankruptcy in August and its sale last week. Couples who postponed delivery of their gifts or were waiting for out-of-stock items had to contact Barneys in order to learn that their dishes, décor and more were replaced with short-lived store credit; many others are likely unaware that their gifts were converted into credit that is now unusable.
Barneys represents a small slice of the broader wedding registry market, according to data from Zola, the wedding registry site. But it was singular among its most fervent consumers for its unique, sophisticated home goods and customer service.
“These are couples that are looking for very curated, luxury brands and they’re looking for V.I.P. service, which is something that traditionally, people turned to Barneys for,” said Shan-Lyn Ma, the chief executive of Zola. “While the raw number of couples may not be significant, the pain of each of those couples that suffers it is certainly very high.”
Harried store associates have been struggling to keep up with frustrated couples and their own daily marching orders. One woman, who had a February wedding in New York and was waiting on $3,000 worth of gifts, said she and her husband visited the Barneys flagship on Monday and were told by a salesperson that everything would be shipped immediately.
On Wednesday, they received a long, apologetic text from the salesperson, who had just learned that an office for expediting orders had closed and that their missing gifts would be returned to them as credit. Even worse, they admitted in the message, the credit was only valid at Barneys and had to be used by Thursday night. The apologies were effusive.
The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want her wedding guests to be upset about the final use of the gifts, said that she gave up on home items like a gravy boat and instead spent the money on three pairs of Gianvito Rossi shoes.
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Ms. Wadell, who is missing much of her dinner set, planned to go in another direction, joking, “I’m tempted to buy a ton of Chanel bags, but that’s not really fair to my husband.”
Answers are hard to come by and reflect the state of disarray at Barneys, which was sold in two parts in a $271 million deal. Its name will be slapped onto new ventures, including a planned floor at Saks Fifth Avenue, as its intellectual property went to the licensing firm Authentic Brands Group. But that doesn’t include its actual operations, staff or deals with designers. B. Riley Financial bought the inventory in stores and online, which is being completely liquidated, but is not responsible for transactions before that.
B. Riley declined to comment. Authentic Brands said it was “not involved in the sale activities.” Barneys’ spokeswoman has departed the company. And lawyers at Kirkland Ellis, who represent Barneys, didn’t return requests for comment.
“It’s likely most of these folks would be considered unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy,” said Craig S. Ganz, a partner in Ballard Spahr, where he specializes in corporate structuring. Unsecured creditors are able to file a claim on Barneys’ bankruptcy website, though he said it’s unclear if they would get much money.
Ms. Wadell remained stunned that Barneys did not contact the couple about the gifts, which it was holding for shipment since their February wedding at the Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach. She said 26 items were purchased off her registry and “about three were available to me yesterday. I spent the remaining credit, but about 90 percent of my registry items weren’t options anymore.”
“The woman on the phone told me was it’s been crazy there,” she added. “It makes you wonder about their brand all along if this is how they’re treating their customers now.”
Sharon Bell, a 27-year-old business development manager for Epix, who was married in New York in May and registered at Barneys and Bloomingdale’s, said she sent multiple emails every week to Barneys to ensure she received her gifts earlier this year. The delays, she said, make sense now that its financial challenges are in the open.
“Registering is supposed to be a really fun and exciting part of getting married,” said Ms. Bell of Rye Brook, N.Y. “In many ways, it’s the foundation of building your home together and so for them to put it to the side when they’re focused on the liquidation — I get why, but it’s really unfortunate for people.”
Ms. Wadell also viewed registries as special for couples and friends and family — which was tarnished by this experience.
“People spent a lot of money thinking they were celebrating our love and as a nice gesture and instead their money went to a corporation,” she said.
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