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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 00:30 GMT 01:30 UK
The great Enron sell-off
Linda Lay's new shop in Houston, Texas
To the Lays it's just stuff, to others it's much more

Selling off a few pieces of household furniture to raise a bit of cash may not sound unusual.

But when you are Linda Lay, the wife of former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, and the furniture you are selling comes from several, well-outfitted mansions, eyebrows will be raised.

The Lays, along with other former Enron executives, have been held up as examples of corporate greed, vilified for putting personal gain ahead of sound business practices.

Nevertheless, Mrs Lay and daughter Robin are set this month to open a second-hand store in the Lays' hometown of Houston in a sort of inventory-reduction sale.

'Jus' stuff'

The sale of several of the couple's multi-million dollar vacation homes, in locales such as Aspen, Colorado, and Galveston, Texas, has left the Lays awash in too many furnishings.

"It didn't make sense for her to keep those furnishings," says Lay spokeswoman Kelly Kimberly.

So Mrs Lay has opted to open to sell them in an upmarket thrift shop, which will also feature the cast-offs of friends and decorating services.

'Closed' sign outside Jus' Stuff shop in Houston, Texas
Bargain-seekers still have a few days to wait
The new store, called Jus' Stuff, lies a scant mile west of the downtown Houston headquarters of Enron, site of the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history.

The store remains shackled - set for a mid-May opening - for now.

A sign hanging outside greets curiosity-seekers with a thank you but advises them the Lays are still "sorting through our stuff".

Mrs Lay decided to open a store rather than storing the family furnishings in the space partly because she could not sell the former pet shop.

Depressed real-estate prices in Houston mean Mrs Lay paid more for the shop a few years ago than what she could get for it today's sluggish market, Ms Kimberly told BBC News.

Image breaker

It is a gesture that could viewed as the modern-day, American equivalent to Marie Antoinette's 18th century declaration, "let them eat cake".

While it may seem like "jus' stuff" to Mrs Lay, for the 4,000 displaced employees of the bankrupt energy giant, her effort to make trite the significance of her possessions is emblematic of the Lays' insensitivity.

"It creates a sense of incredulity," says Robert Dilenschneider, president of the public-relations firm Dilenschneider Group.

He says Mrs Lay's latest endeavour in opening the high-end thrift shop will not help her family's image.

Mrs Lay already sparked an uproar when earlier this year she went before a nationwide audience on US television and announced that she and her husband were "broke".

Americans did not buy it, and Mrs Lay's efforts have been held up as a prime example of how not to conduct public relations.

It is akin, Mr Dilenschneider says, to the Lays sticking "their head outside of the canvas and let[ting] people throw baseballs at them."

Rather than selling furniture to Enron-weary Houstonians, he says, the couple would be better off setting up shop in a bunker.

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