Westgate department stores at Beccles, Diss, Lowestoft, King’s Lynn and Wisbech sold in �7.5m deal

Anglia Co-operative Society is to sell its Westgate department store business to Bournemouth-based JE Beale PLC in a �7.5m deal.

The sale is likely to complete by the end of May and includes 19 of the Society's 23 Westgate department stores – including those at Beccles, Diss, Lowestoft, King's Lynn, and Wisbech.

It will make Westgate part of one of the largest department store groups in the UK, more than doubling the number of Beale's outlets to 32.

JE Beales has become one of the successes during the economic down turn and just last month announced that gross sales in the 19 weeks to March 12 had risen by nearly six per cent compared to last year.

The group's chief executive Tony Brown has previously been on record as stating his company's optimum number of stores would be 35 - a target he has almost achieved in one fell swoop.

Anglia Co-operative chief executive John Chillcott said: 'Beales are a long-established department store operator and combining the respective store portfolios into one enlarged group makes strong commercial sense for both parties and improves job security and opportunities for the 900 staff employed in the 19 Westgate stores covered by the deal.'

Anglia Co-operative will have a significant investment interest in the enlarged Beales department store group and as a result of this deal, it says it will be better able to invest in the growth and development of its Co-operative Food, funerals, travel, optical and AHF furniture businesses.

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Mr Chillcott added: 'In difficult economic times the society is pleased to have secured the future of the Westgate department stores and anticipates minimal disruption and change for customers both during and after the transaction.'

Sharon Ainsworth, national officer at the shop worker's union Usdaw, said: 'The announcement has obviously come as a shock to members and it will no doubt cause some degree of uncertainty and worry. However, Usdaw believes the deal could be in the best interests of staff and may help secure the long term future.'

JE Beale, was founded as the Fancy Fair in 1881 by John Elmes Beale, runs 13 stores across the UK in locations including Bedford, Bolton, Ealing, Southport, Winchester and Yeovil. Its flagship store and head office are in Bournemouth on the site where its first shop opened 130 years ago.

Under the deal, Anglia Co-operative Society members will still be able to earn points and redeem dividend at Westgate stores in future and the society will continue to operate the furniture, travel, optical and hairdressing departments within the stores.

Members' share accounts remain invested in Anglia Co-operative and will be serviced via the members' offices as usual and by post, telephone and on-line.

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