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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

Toledo beer wholesaler has accord to sell firm

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Members of Toledo's Botek family have reached a deal to sell beer wholesaler Metropolitan Distributing Co., which they have owned since the end of Prohibition.

The firm, on Summit Street just north of downtown, is the sole distributor of Miller Lite and several other brands in portions of Lucas and Wood counties.

The planned sale is a culmination of attempts by brewing company MillerCoors LLC to streamline distribution.

Sam Botek, Jr., whose grandfather founded Metropolitan in 1934, didn't return calls seeking comment.

But an official of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents about 21 drivers and warehouse employees at Metropolitan, confirmed that Mr. Botek, president of Metropolitan, advised the union that a sales agreement was reached and that the deal could close by Nov. 13.

Union officials were to meet with the company today to discuss the effects of the transaction.

John Rigling, an international representative for the Steelworkers, said he was concerned about the fate of unionized employees because the sale is to be structured as an "asset buyout" that would allow new owners to demand that employees reapply for their jobs.

"I'm concerned about keeping employment for the people at a decent wage," he said. "They're all considered new hires. … They can keep you and they can get rid of you."

Mr. Rigling said it is his understanding that the buyer would not operate as Metropolitan, but under a different name. He did not know what the name would be.

Unclear is the fate of the firm's offices and warehouse, on Sum-mit near Lagrange Street. The buyer was not disclosed in Mr. Botek's communications with the union.

But B&B Beer Distributing Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., has been in discussions with Metropolitan after the Toledo firm's effort late last year to challenge in court the planned transfer of the Toledo distribution franchise to B&B.

In March, an affiliate of B&B paid $2.4 million to buy a 32,000-square-foot beer warehouse on Wales Road in Northwood, Wood County records show.

The warehouse was owned by Treu House of Munch, distributor for MillerCoors' chief rival, Anheuser-Busch Cos.

Kevin Sullivan, B&B vice president, declined to discuss plans for the building, but said it is currently leased to Sunoco.

He would not comment on a sales agreement with Metropolitan, but said: "We've done deals in Ohio and we've had dates change at the last minute or two."

Mr. Rigling of the United Steelworkers said it was his understanding that the Botek family also has reached a deal to sell its MillerCoors distributorship in St. Henry in west central Ohio.

MillerCoors notified the Boteks last fall that it was transferring their distribution franchises in St. Henry and Toledo to B&B Distributing in an effort to improve efficiency through reducing the number of distributors.

MillerCoors was formed in July, 2008, as a joint venture between SABMiller PLC of London and Molson Coors Brewing Co. of Denver.

The Boteks, who said the loss of the franchises would have led to a steep decline in revenues, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo to stop the transfer. The suit later was combined with similar cases filed by other MillerCoors distributors in Ohio, and transferred to federal court in Columbus, where the case is pending.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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