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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK

Business: The Company File

Co-op closes its non-food stores

The Co-operative Retail Services, one of the largest of Britain's independent co-operative societies, is selling more than 50 stores in England and Wales, putting up to 3,000 jobs at risk.

The company is pulling out of its non-food retailing operations, but will keep its funeral service, where it is the market leader in the UK.

Ten of its home furnishing stores trading as Homeworld and 40 Co-op Living department stores will be sold in three months' time.

The shops are being bought by new owners who will re-develop the sites for other business purposes.

Two Homeworld shops, in Hull and Norwich, are not being sold and will shut with the loss of 220 jobs.

A spokeswoman for Co-operative Retail Services said: "We are working to do anything we can to protect our employees."

The company would try to find alternative employment for them with the Co-op movement and would also be offering counselling, she added.

Privately held UK property developer Miller Group said it had bought 46 stores from the Co-op for 69m.

Thirty-six of the stores, mainly in town centres, would be redeveloped by Miller's property subsidiary, Miller Developments. The remaining 10 would be sold to Primark, the Dublin-based discount fashion retailer.

A spokesman for Miller Group said: "This is just a property transaction. The staffing issues are not really our concern."

Retail group Kingfisher, meanwhile, announced that its Chartwell Land unit was buying the 10 Homeworld stores from the CRS for 80.4m.

Kingfisher is planning to turn two into B&Q warehouses and four will be developed into general large retail units, possibly to be sold off.

Co-operative Retail Services, which has some 640 stores in the UK, was tipped as a bid target by UK newspapers over the weekend. But other parts of the organisation, which include a funeral business, travel agencies, insurance and motor dealerships, are not for sale.

The Co-op's non-food operations have been under pressure during the last three years. A major investment programme failed to improve the stores's performance.

Peter Rowbotham, who had been chairman of the Co-op Retail Service over the last six years, resigned at the weekend.

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