The date Nov. 10, 2008, likely doesn’t ring much of a bell for most Richmonders these days.
But for the group that gathered last week at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, the fateful Monday 10 years ago still carries weight – at least enough to give them a reason to party.
Around 250 former Circuit City employees gathered Jan. 31 for a reunion to commemorate the collapse of the once-mighty Henrico-based electronics retailer. It was on that date in 2008 that the company fell into bankruptcy, where it still languishes today in a seemingly perpetual Chapter 11 case.
And while lawyers continue to fight over scraps in bankruptcy court a decade later, the company’s alumni were hugging, reminiscing, catching up and dusting off at least one old red Circuit City fleece jacket circa 2002.
The event was organized by Dawn vonBechmann, a former Circuit City senior vice president who worked at the company from 1986 until the collapse.
“So pretty much my entire adult life was spent at Circuit City,” said vonBechmann, who went on to work for Walmart corporate and has become a real estate agent. “The atmosphere was very collegial, so people felt a real void and sadness.”
She said the party was prompted by the fact that a lot of former colleagues have stayed in touch through the years.
“Everybody is always like, ‘I miss my Circuit City family,’” she said. “As we were approaching the 10th year I said, ‘It would be great to get everybody back together again.’”
She reached out to Sheri Crowell, who runs Sunnyflower Events, a local event-planning company. Crowell’s husband also is a Circuit City alum.
Word went out on social media and eventually, 250 people were excited enough to pay $20 each to attend. Some even came from out of town.
An oddly close way has helped maintain ties for many Circuit City alums.
VonBechmann said small packs of coworkers from the company ended up working together again in similar capacities at other companies, including McKesson, Southern States, WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco), Lumber Liquidators, Petsmart and Advanced Auto Parts.
“There are a lot of those people who still work together,” she said. “The Circuit City connections really do run deep.
“There’s something about that culture that people say is hard to create in other places. There was something that was really cohesive.”
Bill Cimino, who worked as head of Circuit City’s investor relations and corporate communications, said the group formed a long-term cohesiveness by going through a tough time together.
“A lot of us had a shared experience and really enjoyed working there despite the challenges it had,” said Cimino, now head of investor relations at locally based Union Bank & Trust. “But also going through the bankruptcy process tends to build camaraderie.
“We were all trying our best and doing everything we could to keep the company alive,” he said. “A lot of us were proud to work there.”
Cimino, who showed up at last week’s party sporting his still-bright-red Circuit City jacket, said he was one of the last 70 employees who stayed on to help wind down things.
“We literally turned the lights out at Deep Run I,” he said, referring to one of the buildings on the company’s former Henrico headquarters campus. (Another part of that campus sold last month for $56 million.)
As for the seemingly never-ending Circuit City bankruptcy case, there does appear to be an end in sight, albeit a moving target.
Andrew Cain, an attorney with Los Angeles law firm Pachulski Stang representing Circuit City’s bankruptcy trustee, said he expects the case to wrap up this year. He said the same thing in November 2017, but said they are still working to dig up additional money to pay back to creditors, who have received 53 cents for each dollar owed.
Circuit City had 17,000 creditors with debt claims of $1.2 billion when its liquidation began.
While the longevity of the bankruptcy did give vonBechmann and her friends a reason to have a party, she said she also has seen at least some payback from the process.
“I was a creditor and once in a while, a check shows up,” she said.