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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Jobs fears as stores to be sold
Two department stores in the north-east of England could close in the next few months, putting 310 jobs at risk.

The Merchant Retail Group is to dispose of the Joplings division of its business, which owns stores in Sunderland and Hexham.

The group hopes to sell the stores, which are both profitable, as a going concern.

Chief Executive Philip Newton told BBC News Online on Monday that he was optimistic a buyer would be found.

It is a shock to staff, of course, but I am extremely confident that a buyer can be found
Philip Newton, Chief Executive

Mr Newton, who made the announcement to staff on Monday, said the 200-year-old Joplings store in Sunderland had suffered since the Bridges shopping centre opened 15 years ago.

He said: "We have invested a lot in the stores and tried everything. It is a shock to staff, of course, but I am extremely confident that a buyer can be found."

Sunderland City Council leader Bob Symonds said the council would offer its services and support to assist the group in finding a buyer for the stores.

He said: "We will offer 100% support to Joplings as a business of very long standing in the city to enable them to maintain their viability for the foreseeable and long-term future.

"In their 200th anniversary year, we see this Sunderland company as extremely important and vital that the city does not lose such a valuable asset."

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