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Tobago Bay files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Tobago Bay Trading Co., a retail home decorating chain that formerly operated as World Bazaar Inc., has filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. The East Point-based retailer is owned by a private investor group headed by Winter Park financier F. Philip Handy and Panfida Group PLC, a London-based investment company.

Handy led the private investor group that in November 1988 acquired Munford Inc., the Atlanta-based parent of World Bazaar and Majik Market convenience stores. Munford Inc. filed for bankruptcy court protection in January. However, the two bankruptcy filings are not related.

Tobago Bay operates stores in Tampa's University Square Mall and Tampa Bay Center as well as Desoto Square Mall in Bradenton. Four other former World Bazaar stores in Tampa that the company operated under the name Curious Cargo were closed after Christmas.

"We're still getting shipments, but nobody's told us what's going on," said Laurie Cassidy, assistant manager at the Tobago Bay in University Square.

Unaffected by the bankruptcy are four World Bazaar stores in Pinellas and Pasco counties that are owned by franchisees. They were split off under a different corporate entity when Handy's group took over the company-owned World Bazaar stores and renamed them.

Michael Poole, president and chief executive officer of Tobago Bay, could not be reached for comment.

Tobago operates 70 stores in 17 states. The stores sell imported home decorator items and wicker furniture. Once characterized as a maze of narrow aisles stacked high with merchandise, World Bazaar followed the lead of Pier One, another import store from the '70s that was restored to health by a remodeling that widened the aisles, cleaned up displays and concentrated on home decorator items for aging baby boomers. While many of the World Bazaar franchise stores in Tampa Bay were remodeled, the Tobago Bay stores were not.

The company listed $15.5-million in liabilities and $13.1-million in assets in the petition filed last Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta.

The company changed its name from World Bazaar Inc. when it sold its franchise division to World Bazaar Franchise Corp. last March. It is independent of Tobago Bay and is not in financial difficulty, a company spokesman said.

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