Menzies closes Early Learning US chain

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JOHN MENZIES, the news wholesaler and retailer, is to shut down its disastrous Early Learning Centre chain in the US soon after Christmas, axing 215 jobs and closing 73 stores, writes Patrick Hosking.

It has been unable to find a buyer for the loss-making business, which has now cost pounds 22m in write-offs.

'All viable options have been exhausted,' it said yesterday.

The ELC mix of childrens' toys, games and books with an educational slant, which has been very popular in the UK, failed to find favour with American parents.

Menzies opened its first ELC in the US in 1986. Since 1990, when it wrote off pounds 15m, the company has unsuccessfully tried to find an equity partner in the business to shoulder some of the risk.

In July, it made another pounds 7m provision and put the business wholly up for sale. That pounds 7m will be enough to cover the closure costs, it said.

Menzies shares, depressed by the US uncertainty, rose 13p to 459p on the news.

However, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigation into newspaper wholesaling continues to overshadow the company.

The 170 ELC shops in the UK and elsewhere will be unaffected.