Lord & Taylor, the venerable New York City retailer, is in talks aimed at acquiring Fortunoff, a Long Island institution that has been struggling in the last few years, a source close to the matter said yesterday.

The talks had been ongoing for some time, but broke off about two weeks ago and have since resumed, the source said.

“Lord & Taylor got up and left the table two weeks ago,” the source said. “But they’ve come back to the table, maybe thinking they’re going to get a better price” for Fortunoff, which is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to a report this week in Home Furnishings News.

Lord & Taylor is “close to buying” Fortunoff, the New York Times reported yesterday. The furniture, housewares and jewelry retailer has had its flagship store in Westbury since 1964. It dates its beginnings to a small set of stores on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn in 1922.

Founded in Manhattan, Lord & Taylor is 182 years old and is now owned by NRDC Equity Partners, an aggressive investment firm. The Times said the deal would be worth about $100 million.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group in Port Washington, said a Lord & Taylor-Fortunoff combination would make sense. “The deal would be complementary to both,” he said, “Lord & Taylor has been able to differentiate themselves, which is something they would be able to pass along to Fortunoff.” Cohen said he thinks there is a “high probability” the deal will happen.

“Lord & Taylor is now sitting down at a warm table,” a source told Newsday yesterday. “They’ve been there before. Their return suggests a strategy that they want to acquire a legendary brand name at a cheaper number. But do they need an economic model that makes sense for them? Of course they do.”

In a statement Wednesday, Fortunoff said it “has been and is continuing to work with its financial advisers to consider the complete range of strategic alternatives for the company. Our stores are fully staffed and open for business as usual.”

Trimaran Capital Partners, the Manhattan-based investment company that took control of Fortunoff in 2004 from the Fortunoff family, did not return phone calls. A call left at Lord & Taylor was also not returned.

Source : By JAMES BERNSTEIN | james.bernstein@newsday.com