The oldest agency in this city, Bauerlein Advertising, has folded in Chapter 7 bankruptcy after failing to overcome Internal Revenue Service debts left by previous owner John Green.
Fifteen employees were laid off, with a handful moving to a new agency called Trumpet, started by Bauerlein president Robbie Vitrano, account supervisor Jim Gradl and art director Pat McGuinness.
The flamboyant Green, who once bragged he would pursue only national accounts, could not be reached. Since leaving Bauerlein in 1994 and declaring personal bankruptcy, he reportedly lives in Atlanta.
Reports of Bauerlein's financial instability have proliferated since Green opened an Atlanta branch in 1990. Vitrano took over in 1994 and scaled back operations to turn the shop around.
Vitrano said Green's refusal to cooperate with an agreement to repay the IRS $250,000 in 1994 employee withholding taxes led to the collection proceedings against the agency. The IRS deal had hinged on financial disclosure from all involved parties, including Green.
The revenue service refused to comment on the case, but a local IRS representative said debt, interest and penalties cannot be dismissed even if a business files for bankruptcy protection.
Bauerlein's abrupt end caps a long and colorful history. Since Wally Bauerlein founded the agency in 1922, it grew to become the benchmark against which other local shops measured themselves.
"Bauerlein was always our gauge. If we beat them, we knew we did really well," said Peter A. Mayer Advertising president Mark Mayer. At its peak under Green in 1990, Bauerlein's billings topped $20 million.
Green joined Bauerlein in 1979 as art director and became president in 1987. He opened the Atlanta office to service the 5-year-old, $5 million 10-K account, but that relationship had already soured and Bauerlein lost the business in 1992.
In 1993, Green failed to pay $700,000 in Louisiana Lottery media bills. The agency worked for a year without pay to reimburse the money.
At the time Vitrano assumed control in late 1994, the payroll tax omission surfaced.