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Talks over future of Co-op stores

PUBLISHED: 09:44 17 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:11 03 July 2010

TWO Norfolk Co-op stores are set to be saved, thanks to a planned takeover by a specialist retailer.

Bosses at Vergo Retail are in talks with the owners of the East of England Co-op to buy up Norwich's flagship store, which employs more than 60 people at its St Stephen's base, and the Yarmouth branch.

TWO Norfolk Co-op stores are set to be saved, thanks to a planned takeover by a specialist retailer.

Bosses at Vergo Retail are in talks with the owners of the East of England Co-op to buy up Norwich's flagship store, which employs more than 60 people at its St Stephen's base, and the Yarmouth branch.

A total of 350 jobs are to be saved throughout the Eastern region, with shops in Ipswich and Colchester also set to be taken over.

Richard Samson, chief executive of the East of England Co-op, said: “We are pleased that this 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.

“It will also enable our customers and members to have the opportunity to continue shopping in these strategic locations, which will all remain in the society's ownership.”

Norwich's St Stephen's store has been part of the city for more than 100 years, being set up in 1887. But discussions with East of England Co-op chiefs have revealed the push will be back towards groceries.

Mr Samson added: “The decision to move away from non-food stores after so many years has not been an easy one to take, but the Co-operative movement has generally moved away from operating department stores and no longer has the scale of purchasing power it once had in this area of business.

“The continuity of employment this deal provides for our colleagues in the stores concerned is very important and I know that they will continue to provide an excellent service to customers. I extend my sincere appreciation to them for their loyalty, support and hard work.”

Formed in 2007, Vergo is headed by David Thompson, a former director of Mothercare, Habitat and BHS, and more recently director and shareholder of Mk One which was sold in 2004 for £55m.

Mr Thompson said: “We are very pleased to be expanding our group into the east of England with the acquisition of these stores which have real synergies with the current Vergo Retail portfolio. There is scope for significant further growth through the expansion of product ranges across all the stores and this is something we will be looking at, at an early stage.

“Customers and staff can be reassured by our considerable experience in successfully managing major regional department stores and our principles of offering good quality, great value for money and excellent customer service.

“All of our existing stores are important and longstanding features of retail within each of the towns or cities that they serve.”

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