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The death knell for the Kittinger Co. continued to grow louder Thursday as the Buffalo furniture company lost one of its major customers and its owner scheduled an auction to sell off the firm's equipment.

Together, Thursday's announcements push Kittinger closer to its demise, which is scheduled to take place next month unless a new owner is found for the top-of-the-line furniture maker.

And even if a last-minute buyer is found, Kittinger will be without one of its major clients. Colonial Williamsburg said it has signed a licensing agreement to have a Michigan furniture company make its colonial furniture reproductions, which had been done by Kittinger since the program began 54 years ago.

With time running out on the efforts to find a buyer to save Kittinger, Colonial Williamsburg said it has signed a licensing agreement with Baker Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., to make its line of 18th Century furniture.

"I regret the end of our long relationship with the Kittinger Co. and many of the fine people who have worked with us toward our goals for over 50 years," said Richard A. Schreiber, vice president and chief business officer for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

David C. Ogren, Kittinger's president, said the Colonial Williamsburg licensing agreement accounted for about $3 million in sales last year, out of the company's total of about $16 million.

"We held on and we held on. Finally, it just comes to the point where it becomes quite apparent that the company is going to be shut down," Schreiber said. "We had been through 12 or 15 groups that had not been able to even work out an oral agreement" to buy Kittinger from its owner, Ladd Furniture Co. of High Point, N.C.

Colonial Williamsburg's decision to stick by Kittinger until the last minute was not without its costs. Kittinger currently is completing work on its final pieces of furniture, while Baker probably will not be ready to begin production until next year.

As a result, it will be almost a year between the time the last Colonial Williamsburg reproductions made by Kittinger are completed and the first ones made by Baker are finished, Schreiber said.

"It may hurt us a little," he said. "But at least we go away knowing that we did what we could."

Ogren also said Ladd has scheduled an auction for July 25-26 to sell the company's equipment. "That, howe er, assumes that we do not have a new buyer," said Ogren, who noted that the auction could be canceled if the company is sold.

Ogren said two more out-of-town groups are talking with Ladd about acquiring Kittinger, although they are just starting to discuss the financial aspects of a potential deal.

"What will happen, if anything, is too hard to predict," Ogren said. "The big question is whether they have the financing."

For now, though, Kittinger has only about 60 workers left at its Elmwood Avenue plant, down from 190 when Ladd announced the closing in late February. Kittinger's Castile plant is down to about 20 employees from 54 before the announcement.

Ogren said that, by the end of June, Kittinger will be down to about 20 workers, mostly shipping and office employees.

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