2,000 jobs go as more First Quench stores close

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The Independent Online

Administrators of Threshers' owner First Quench today announced the loss of more than 2,000 jobs following another raft of store closures.

First Quench - which also trades as Wine Rack, The Local, Haddows, Bottoms Up and Victoria Wine - fell into administration in October after struggling amid the recession.

KPMG said 391 stores would close with the loss of 2,140 jobs, although it remained hopeful that some of the outlets would be sold as going concerns before the closure process was completed.

The stores are due to close by December 20, depending on stock levels.

The administrator announced 373 store closures at the start of November, followed by plans for another 381 last week. Liquidation sales are continuing within those stores earmarked for closure, while 247 sites have already shut.

KPMG remains in talks over the sale of more than 100 stores but said current conditions made it difficult to complete deals.

Richard Fleming, UK head of restructuring, said: "Unfortunately, despite the initial high level of interest, it remains difficult for buyers to complete deals in the current tough market."

Some deals have been concluded and Venus Wine and Spirit Merchants said earlier today that it had acquired 14 of the best-performing Wine Rack stores, adding that they would continue trading under the same name.

The firm is looking to keep on 90 staff working at the shops, which are across London and the South East, including Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, Farnham in Surrey, and Ascot, Berkshire.

Another eight stores have been sold to SEP Properties, the administrator said.

Mr Fleming added: "We also remain hopeful that some of the 391 stores announced today might still be sold as going concerns before the closure process is completed, but with stock now running low in the remaining stores, it has been necessary to make plans to close them."

Before falling into administration, First Quench operated around 1,200 stores and employed some 6,300 staff.

But the firm succumbed as the recession hit home amid stiff competition from rival off-licences and cheap supermarket drink.

Its Threshers chain was founded 112 years ago by Samuel Thresher. It was bought by Flowers Breweries in the 1950s and became part of Whitbread - now owner of Premier Inn and Costa Coffee - in 1962.

Whitbread merged the off-licence chain with Allied Domecq's Victoria Wine in 1998 to create First Quench, which was bought by private equity firm Principal Finance Group for £225 million in 2000.