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Bankrupt Metro Detroit-based furniture retailer Art Van laid off nearly all of its employees Friday after closing stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company suspended all sales operations, saying the lack of shoppers is "costing more to stay open then we're bringing in," company spokeswoman Diane Charles said.

"It's a difficult decision to close the stores and obviously, that means workers," she said.

Charles said there was "no alternative but to take these actions" after the 61-year-old company began seeing a shortage of its close-out sales.

A handful of people at corporate in human resources and accountants are winding down the business, Charles said. It's unclear what will happen with the remaining inventory. 

"Who’s to say what will happen after coronavirus," she said. "It's an unforeseen event, and our creditors will no longer support."

Based in Warren, the furniture and mattress retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 8 in Delaware, three days after it launched liquidation sales at most of its 190 stores. 

The company was founded in 1959 with one store by Art Van Elslander. It had 190 stores and 3,100 employees in nine states, including Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. The Van Elslander family sold the chain in 2017 to Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners for $550 million. Art Van Elslander died in February 2018.

Prior to the Michigan outbreak, stores including a Warren location were closed in advance after reports of overwhelming traffic and angry customers. 

The number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Michigan jumped over 60% or by more than 200 cases Friday for a new statewide total of 549, according to the state website.

The number of Michigan residents filing for unemployment on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday jumped by 1,500% over what would normally be expected as businesses shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 55,000 sought unemployment benefits from Monday through Wednesday, officials told The Detroit News.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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