Martha Stewart given food for thought
For a domestic goddess, Martha Stewart hasn’t been spending much time in the kitchen this past week.
As snowflakes sugarcoated New York, American sweetheart and impossibly perfect homemaker Martha Stewart (71) stepped out into the cold and on to the state supreme court stand in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday.
The case – a contract dispute concerning a partnership over the Martha Stewart brand – involved two major department store rivals: Macy’s and JC Penney.
Commenting that she was “as comfortable as can be”, the demurely dressed, feisty Stewart rejected allegations brought against her by Macy’s chief executive Terry Lundgren, whose store is the chief vendor of Martha Stewart goods, selling them exclusively since 2006.
Macy’s sued Martha Stewart Living for breach of contract in 2012, saying an agreement to sell products at JC Penney in 2011 ran counter to Stewart’s deal with Macy’s.
Lundgren first learned of the $282.9 million (€217.5 million) JC Penney deal during a phone call with Stewart in December 2011, and was so shocked he hung up.
“I haven’t responded to her since that phone call and I don’t intend to,” he said.
“I don’t have a personal relationship with Martha Stewart,” Lundgren told the same court days prior to Stewart’s four-hour testimony.
He allegedly even teared up a little, saying: “I thought Martha and I were friends.”
Sued by Macy’s
Macy’s sued JC Penney last year, saying it interfered with its contract by agreeing to build about 700 Martha Stewart brand “stores within a store” inside JC Penney, planned for this spring. JC Penney acquired a 17 per cent stake in New York-based Martha Stewart Living for $38.5 million two years ago.
Stewart took it all in her stride, telling the judge “it just boggles my mind that we’re here”, and defending her actions and her empire by saying Macy’s had not been doing enough to promote her brand and that their “exclusive” contract would not have been renewed this year anyway.
All week her enigmatic, defiantly perfectionist aura commanded attention.
The press was hot on her tail in front of the courthouse (she had to chide paparazzi, warning them, “don’t step on my foot”) and she made headlines including “How Martha got her groove back” as the talk of the town. After all, Stewart is no stranger to trouble.
“Today is a shameful day,” she had told reporters and onlookers in front of the same Manhattan courthouse almost a decade ago.
“It’s shameful for me, and for my family, and for my beloved company.”
With those words, she embarked on a five-month stint in federal prison followed by six months under house arrest for lying to investigators about a well-timed stock sale.
The sale in question had saved her about $45,000 – pocket change for a business mogul worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Stewart is still one of the top 400 wealthiest Americans, according to Forbes.
Major broadcasters such as ABC News penned this suit as the latest misstep “in a career that keeps rising and falling like a soufflé”.
The presiding judge in the Macy’s vs Stewart and JC Penney debacle yesterday dismissed proceedings after 12 days of trial and ordered the players to go into mediation.
There is no question that this case could mean big bucks – business with Macy’s bankrolls about $300 million for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. Her last “legal mess”, as Stewart calls her stock trade scandal, lost the company $59 million in 2004 and $75 million the next year.
Stewart had estimated personal losses of $1 billion in the past decade.
The real question is whether Americans will still buy products from a fallen domestic goddess – be it from Macy’s or JC Penney.