The Sharper Image, the upscale retailer known for its air purifiers, vibrating chairs and other high-tech gadgets, has fallen on hard times. The company says it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and will soon close as many as 90 stores.
"The company intends to continue to conduct business as usual while it devotes renewed efforts to resolve its operational and liquidity problems and develops a reorganization plan," the firm said in a statement.
The company's liquidity problem doesn't stem so much from its business model as from litigation over its heavily advertised Ionic Breeze air cleaner.
The trouble began in 2003 when Consumer Reports magazine published a report claiming the expensive air cleaners don't clean air. The magazine later claimed its tests showed that Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze Quadra Silent Air Purifier and four other units also release potentially unhealthy levels of ozone.
Sharper Image sued Consumer Reports for libel, but lost. Meanwhile, the company faces a class action lawsuit claiming it defrauded investors. Consumers aren't very happy either.
"I purchased two Ionic Breeze Quadras about 9 years ago to help with my allergies and asthma," Victoria, of Cambria, California told ConsumerAffairs.com last year. "It was only recently I read some information that the ozone emitted from these air 'purifiers' could worsen asthma symptoms and I decided to shut mine down.
"My asthma had been getting progressively worse for years, and now, after only 2 days of this thing being off, I have noticed a dramatic reduction is my symptoms," she said. "I do not know yet if the damage to my lungs is permanent, but for the first time in at least a year, I can take a deep breath without coughing and I don't wake up every two hours needing to use an inhaler."
The company has experienced steadily falling sales since 2004, and has reported net losses in the last three years. In court papers, Sharper Image blamed its woes, in part, on negative publicity surrounding the Ionic Breeze.