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Wetherspoon to create 2,000 jobs

THE FAST-GROWING pub chain JD Wetherspoon defied fears of a recession and a share price collapse yesterday, announcing that it would create 2,000 new jobs in 1999.

It plans to spend pounds 100m opening 80 new premises to add to the 306 it already owns. The new pubs will be sited in town and city centres.

The chairman Tim Martin, who founded the company 19 years ago, said: ``Since we opened our first pub we have traded in good and bad economic times and it hasn't made a lot of difference.''

Between April and September this year its share price halved, and has shown little sign of recovering since. Yesterday the shares closed down 1p at 175.5p.

Even so, Mr Martin seems to have found a winning formula in the highly competitive and fast changing market for Britain's pub drinkers.

While breweries are endlessly converting unfashionable and decaying licensed premises into a bewildering variety of themed drinking dens, Wetherspoon rarely buys pubs.

Instead, it converts buildings such as banks, post offices and cinemas into large free houses and serves food in them all day as well as drink.

Music and television are banned (the latter even during the World Cup), as are karaoke and quiz nights. All its pubs provide non-smoking areas and closed-circuit television to deter crime.

The chain is also willing to price beer aggressively and indulge in loss leaders. Next month about half of its premises will be selling a leading bitter at 99p a pint. Last month it put large posters up in Calais, the home of cheap beer, advertising the fact that two of its pubs near Leeds would be selling John Smith's Yorkshire bitter at 50p a pint.

The new jobs, a mixture of full and part-time posts, will include managers, bar workers and kitchen staff. The chain currently employs 7,900 staff. Its new premises will be opening in towns and cities in England, Scotland and Wales.

Mr Martin, aged 43, started the business as a young law graduate from Nottingham university, when he sold a flat to finance the purchase of a single north London pub. He believes that Wetherspoon could more than triple in size to run over 1,000.

``He senses that a lot of rival pubs are not particularly good, and there are still plenty of towns where we've never been heard of,'' said company spokesman Eddie Gershon.

``Our [pubs] are clean, safe and straightforward and we welcome everyone, from students to pensioners.''

But Wetherspoon's quest for new customers does not extend to what may be the most heavy drinking night in history - New Year's Eve, 1999. The company has already announced its pubs will shut at 8pm, allowing its staff to go off and celebrate.