Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 10:49 UK

Co-op jobs saved in store buy-out

East of England Co-op department store
The Co-op will retain ownership of all the sites

The East of England Co-op has announced it has sold its department stores, securing the jobs of 350 workers.

Twelve stores in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have been sold to Liverpool-based Vergo Retail for an undisclosed sum.

The Co-op said it would retain ownership of the sites, leasing properties to Vergo.

Four stores were due to close in June, affecting about 140 staff, but talks were extended to cover other shops at risk in the region, the company added.

Stores in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Clacton-on-Sea, Witham, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Stowmarket, Stanway, Dovercourt and Colchester will remain open.

The only exceptions in the deal are two stores in Halstead and Leiston, which will merge with adjacent supermarkets.

The buy-out is expected to be finalised next month.

'Job security'

East of England Co-op chief executive Richard Samson said the decision to move away from non-food stores was "not easy".

He added: "The deal will secure the employment of our colleagues and maintain a strong retailing offer at the stores concerned.

"In the current economic climate, maintaining job security is a key priority. The deal will also enable our customers and members to be able to continue shopping in these strategic locations, which will all remain in the society's ownership.

"These stores represent less than 6% of our total business and we will continue to operate more than 200 trading outlets and other services as well as actively seeking new ventures."

Vergo was formed in 2007 and operates non-food stores around the country. It recently bought five stores from Plymouth and South West Co-op.

David Thompson, who heads Vergo, said there was "scope for significant further growth" through the expansion of product ranges across the stores.

Overall, the Co-op has more than 200 outlets and employs 5,000 people.

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