Rescue Deal for Book Firm

WH Smith bolstered its high street estate today with the acquisition of 22 stores from the administrator of British Bookshops and Stationers.

The retailer said the stores, based across the south of England, will trade under their current name for the timebeing. It paid just over £1 million for the outlets.

British Bookshops started life in Sussex in 1938 but went into administration in January in a move affecting more than 300 jobs and 51 stores.

Recovery firm Zolfo Cooper said it was actively pursuing options for the remaining stores, all of which have remained opened since the administration.

Around 200 workers will transfer to WH Smith in a phased takeover programme beginning on February 22 with shops in Teddington and Southwick.

The other stores are at Bexhill, Bognor, Brighton (2), Chichester, Crowborough, Dorking, Eastbourne, Hailsham, Hove, Lancing, Lewes, Littlehampton, Reigate, Rustington, Seaford, Sevenoaks, Shoreham, Tunbridge Wells and Uckfield.

Cash flow problems coupled with tough trading, particularly due to the bad weather before Christmas, were blamed for the company's collapse.

The firm, which is based in Hollingbury, Brighton, started life as Sussex Stationers and grew during the 1980s and 1990s into a regional South East-based chain.

It was sold to Irish booksellers Eason and Sons and was again sold in May 2009 to private equity firm Endless, which installed a new management team.

Simon Appell, a partner at Zolfo Cooper, said: ``We are pleased to have been able to safeguard the iconic British Bookshops & Stationers brand through the sale of 22 stores.

WH Smith has around 570 high street stores, while its travel division operates from 516 units, including motorway service areas and coffee shops.

Nick Bubb, a retail analyst at Arden Partners, said: ``The deal underlines the fact that the mature high street division does have some legs and growth opportunities, even if all the long-term growth is coming from the travel division.

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