Update for those with hides at Uber Tannery
Now remember, I'm just the messenger. It looks like there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Bankrupt Minnesota tannery owner tells hunters: 'I'm sorry'
By Dave Orrick
Posted: 09/18/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
September 19, 2012 3:57 AM GMTUpdated: 09/18/2012 10:57:01 PM CDT
Jared Rinerson and his wife, Shawna, filed for personal bankruptcy, and their company, Uber Tanning Co., has closed. The tannery, which was based in Owatanna and Ham Lake, had been in business for more than a century. (Pioneer Press file photo: John Doman)
The owner of a storied Minnesota tannery that has gone out of business has apologized to hunters whose cherished animal hides have been caught up in bankruptcy proceedings.
Jared Rinerson, who filed for personal bankruptcy last month, agreed to face hunters who showed up at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis looking for answers Tuesday, Sept. 19.
"Yeah, I want to talk to people," he quietly told his attorney, Barbara May, after she briefed a crowd of 15 hunters on a plan to return their hides. "I'm heartbroken this happened."
The 15 who attended the event are among more than 700 people who own thousands of hides that fell into legal limbo when Rinerson walked away from Uber Tanning Co. this summer.
The plan to return the hides, or finish work on them, could start in 10 days, part of a larger business deal between lenders and other tannery operations to resurrect Uber. Details of the deal, which has not been finalized, haven't been released. A source connected to it told the Pioneer Press that he's optimistic, and May relayed similar sentiments, emphasizing that neither she nor her clients are in control of the deal and have little standing.
Jared and Shawna Rinerson were the sole owners of Uber. For more than a century, the company took in raw hides of big game such as deer, elk and moose and turned them into custom clothing, gloves, gun cases and other garments and accessories in its Owatonna tannery and sewing plant. The Rinersons, of Ham Lake,
bought the company in 2006 from the Uber family and in the past year had shifted some operations to Ham Lake.
'OUT OF MONEY'
"We ran out of money," Jared Rinerson told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday in his first public remarks since it became clear Uber was in trouble.
Rinerson said the company struggled since 2010, when flooding on the Straight River damaged equipment in the Owatonna tannery. Insurance didn't cover it all, he said.
Things snowballed this past winter and spring.
"We couldn't keep up, and we had to do something to get some money," he said, referring not only to his business, but his family finances. "So I went out to North Dakota."
Rinerson landed a sales job associated with the oil rush, and stationed a relative to run the business. An accident left the relative paralyzed, he said, further straining efforts to keep the business running smoothly.
Numerous customers, some who paid in advance, have said they were told in the spring that their hides were nearly completed, but they never received a finished product. By July, their inquiries were met with non-functioning phone numbers, full voice mailboxes and locked doors at Uber's facilities.
Why didn't Rinerson notify customers?
"It all came quick in the end," he said. "A mass letter costs $1,500. I didn't have $1,500. I didn't have $50. I had to borrow money to get gas to drive to North Dakota."
He said his "biggest mistake" was not taking his wife's advice to close down the company sooner.
He said he tried to arrange for other tanneries to take over unfinished work, but nothing could be finalized.
What is his message to the customers?
"I don't know what to say. My heart is broken by this. I never intended to do it. Everything is still there. I signed over all the assets to the bank, and I've given my commitment to go in there and walk through the inventory and identify all their belongings."
He relayed similar sentiments to the hunters when he spoke to them following the proceeding.
The source connected to the possible deal, who has spoken on condition of anonymity because nothing is finalized, has said all the hides are in good condition, and the inventory tracking system seems to be in order.
Rinerson said most raw hides sent in from last year's hunting season likely have been tanned but not yet dyed, but that none should have begun to rot.
Like many customers, Roland Wells of Minneapolis appeared to take Rinerson and May at their words, although several were frustrated by not being furnished with contact information for the people who might eventually distribute the hides. May said those involved have contact information for them, although Rinerson accepted names and phone numbers from several.
"Thank you," Wells said to Rinerson. "I'm sorry you're going through this. You do good work."
Rinerson nodded and looked down. "I'm sorry," he said.
Legally, the bankruptcy case has no jurisdiction over the hides, a point that court-appointed Trustee Timothy D. Moratzka emphasized at Tuesday's event, a meeting of creditors.
For a federal courthouse matter, the proceeding was attended by an unusually high number of men wearing camouflage hats.
There is little chance that any customers will receive money back, but several said they were hopeful their hides could be returned.
"I'm gonna give it 10 days," said Art Meadowcroft of Plymouth, who sent 22 tanned hides and two raw hides to Uber to be made into an assortment of vests, jackets and gloves.
"I'm gonna be optimistic. Satisfied? No. Not until I get my hides back."
Dave Orrick can be reached at 651-228-5512. Follow him at twitter.com/OutdoorsNow