One month after owner Ed "Watty" Wills' apparent suicide, the Frank J. Wills Co. in Little Rock, Ark., is closing after 42 years.
The trustee for Wills' estate, Little Rock attorney Jim Penick, confirmed that the family-owned shop will close following a sell-off of company assets over the next 30 days. The decision eliminates the jobs of 35 employees, although a third have already found new employment, said agency official Bill Paschall.
Penick said the shop was closed after an evaluation of assets and debt structure, but the main reason was the loss of Wills, whom colleagues said spent as much as 14 hours a day at the agency founded by his late father.
"It was a significant blow to lose the hands-on guy, and based on the overall financial picture, the prudent thing was to wind it down and liquidate everything," said Penick.
Penick enlisted accounting officials from Little Rock agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods to help assess the shop's viability. He and CJRW chief operating officer Tom Steves deny the large shop was interested in purchasing the Wills agency, which claimed 1997 billings of $20-25 million.
Little Rock police said Wills apparently shot himself July 6 at his residence. Authorities are still awaiting a final autopsy ruling.
Three of the shop's larger Little Rock-based clients--Dillard's de-partment stores, Harvest Foods supermarkets and Dixie Restaurants--had remained on board since Wills' death. While Dixie has since returned to former agency The Marchese Group in Little Rock, officials with Dillard's and Harvest could not be reached for comment on the future of their accounts.
Paschall said that a public affairs subsidiary that he, Wills and fellow partner Randy Thompson operated within the agency will continue with a handful of staffers.