updated 7/1/2009 1:58:29 PM ET 2009-07-01T17:58:29

Soap and lotion seller Crabtree & Evelyn Ltd. says it filed for Chapter 11 protection on Wednesday, a victim of the recession and management missteps.

The pressure of repaying debt forced the company to file for bankruptcy, Acting President Stephen Bestwick said in a court filing. He said management changes had resulted in several shifts in strategy, hurting its wholesale business.

The company plans to use the court's protection to renegotiate leases with reluctant landlords in its effort to restructure and emerge from bankruptcy. The filing does not include operations outside the U.S.

The Woodstock, Conn.-based company reported in a court filing that it owed $46.2 million in debt and had $31.7 million in assets as of March 31. The privately held company runs 126 retail stores that sell bathroom products and gift basket items at Copley Place in Boston, Watertower Place in Chicago, The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and Century City Mall in Los Angeles, among others.

It also sells Vera Bradley bags and wallets as well as LaSource, India Hicks Island Living and Naturals products.

The company first sold products under the Crabtree & Evelyn name in 1972 and its first retail store was opened in 1977. The store's name is derived from a short form of Crabapple Tree and the last name of John Evelyn, a Brit who wrote about conservation.

Parent company Crabtree & Evelyn Holdings Ltd. is a London-based holding company, which is in turn owned by investment holding company CE Holdings in the British Virgin Islands. CE Holdings is owned by KLKOI, another investment vehicle based in the Virgin Islands. KLKOI operates rubber plantations and manufactures oleochemicals, which are chemicals derived from oils and fats.

Other major retailers that have filed for bankruptcy during the current downturn include Steve & Barry's, Eddie Bauer, Filene's Basement, Linens 'N Things, Mervyn's and Circuit City Stores Inc.

Bestwick said he hoped the reorganization would help Crabtree & Evelyn continue its "tradition of English-style elegance."

It filed its case in the Southern District of New York.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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