CLEVELAND - The Sherwin-Williams Co. announced the acquisition of substantially all of the assets of Mautz Paint Co., a regional manufacturer of architectural paints based in Madison, WI, for an undisclosed price.

Mautz Paint, founded in 1922, is a well-known manufacturer, distributor, and retailer of paint and paint-related products, and operates 33 stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. The stores sell architectural coatings under the Mautz brand name to professional and do-it-yourself customers. Sherwin-Williams said the Mautz stores will continue to operate under the Mautz name and sell Mautz branded products.

Mautz Chairman B.F. "Biff" Mautz III admitted to feeling "saddened" by the move to sell the company founded by his grandfather in 1922. But he said the decision was being driven in large part by looming costs associated with the company's legal defense against a lead-paint lawsuit filed last year by the city of Milwaukee.

"Although we believe the city's case is meritless and Mautz will ultimately be absolved of any responsibility, for the first time in our history we were faced with years of litigation which, even if unsuccessful, could destroy our small company," B.F. Mautz said. The lawsuit is pending in a Wisconsin state court.

The sale to Sherwin-Williams, Mautz said, would "allow the Mautz Paint brand to continue in the tradition that was started by my grandfather and which I have tried my best to continue."

Sherwin-Williams Chairman and CEO Christopher M. Connor said the acquisition of Mautz Paint will strengthen the company's store base in the Midwest, "as Mautz has been a well recognized paint company in the Midwest for many decades." The purchase also will "enhance the products and services we will be able to provide existing and new customers in that market," he said.

B.F. Mautz said Mautz Paint had received purchase offers over the years, but had previously rejected any sale due to a belief that "it was in the best interest of Mautz and its customers to remain family-owned and Wisconsin-based." But he said negotiations to sell the company to Sherwin-Williams "became more intensified" after the city of Milwaukee filed suit in April 2000 against Mautz Paint and NL Industries, alleging the manufacture and sale of lead-based house paints "decades ago, when it was perfectly legal to do so."

"This lawsuit caught us completely by surprise," Mautz said, pointing out that the company "had always been a friend to the city of Milwaukee," donating paint products and personnel to numerous civic and charitable causes - including lead-paint abatement programs. "We were shocked and hurt by the city's accusations that Mautz had somehow broken the law," he said.

Mautz expressed his gratitude to "the people of Wisconsin, perhaps with the exception of the City of Milwaukee Common Council, for supporting Mautz Paint Company for nearly 80 years."