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The owner of Rogers' Christmas House has filed for bankruptcy.
By LOGAN NEILL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 20, 2007
[Maurice Rivenbark | Times]
BROOKSVILLE - Visitors walking into Rogers' Christmas House are greeted with the merry sounds of the holiday season from an overhead speaker playing Christmas carols.
How long the cheer will remain at the landmark store likely will depend on the financial picture that emerges after a recent personal bankruptcy filing by store owner Donna Jones.
According to papers filed Oct. 30 through U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa, Jones has $2.3-million in debt, much of it tied to the Christmas House business. The 74-page document also lists $1.9-million in personal and business assets.
Reached at her home, Jones, 65, was reluctant to speak with a reporter about the bankruptcy filing. She said she planned to keep the doors open to the Christmas House but added, "It's been a little hard lately. All of this isn't very good publicity."
In August, Jones told the Hernando Times that Rogers' Christmas House was in financial trouble. Mounting debt and an inability to secure credit had made it all but impossible to buy new inventory in time for the looming Christmas season.
At the time, Jones estimated she was $50,000 behind in mortgage payments to the Margaret Rogers Ghiotto Trust, from which she purchased the business in December 2005 for $1.5-million.
In October 2006, the trust filed a complaint in Hernando County Court seeking foreclosure against Jones. That case is pending.
Jones said that although last Christmas season brought relatively strong sales, it was not enough to stem the financial strife she said began in early 2006 when her half sister and her husband, Ann and Bill Chapman, arrived to run the Christmas House while she was hospitalized with a stomach disorder.
Jones said that in her absence, the couple took thousands of dollars from the store and purchased large amounts of inventory that pushed the business deeper into debt. In addition, she said, many of the business' financial records disappeared. In January, two weeks after Jones fired them, the Chapmans told the Hernando Times they had done nothing wrong.
Although Jones has owned a Hudson denture clinic since 1999, she acknowledged in August that she had no experience in running a retail business before buying the Christmas House, a rambling complex that includes five buildings and employs more than 20 people.
Jones said she believed that the business, which was run successfully for more than 35 years by its founder Margaret "Weenie" Rogers Ghiotto, "would take care of itself."
Under Chapter 11, debtors have between three and six months to offer creditors a repayment plan. If the plan is accepted, the debtor must make payments under the requirements agreed upon by both parties and a judge.
Though she would not elaborate on what steps she is taking to repay her creditors, Jones said she is hopeful that holiday business will be brisk enough to allow her to keep the doors open. She also said she may seek a business partner.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.
[Last modified November 19, 2007, 19:40:04]