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    AmeriStop Sale Draws Near

    As details of existing franchise agreements are decided, the assets of the company move closer to auction.

    By Mehgan Belanger

    COVINGTON, Ky. -- The next phase of the AmeriStop convenience chain is moving one step closer to fruition, as qualified, selected bidders will gather at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center here on Feb. 14 and 15, 2008, when an auction of the AmeriStop convenience chain's assets is conducted.

    "There is a lot of interest in the stores, from the top players in industry all the way to individuals looking for one store," said Rob Carringer, managing partner for Dallas-based CRG Partners Group LLC, the company that is operating the AmeriStop chain while bankruptcy proceedings are taking place. He told CSNews Online there are "scores" of bidders looking to purchase individual stores.

    More than 80 interested parties have completed the requirements to become qualified to bid during the auction, according to Carringer. Bids are due Feb. 7 to be considered for the auction.

    "The parties range from those wanting to buy the majority, if not most of the company, to people interested in buying regionally located stores," said Carringer. "There are parties just interested in the franchise program. They want the leases and rights to the program to reinvigorate the program."

    Parties interested in acquiring the sites can contact Carringer at (214) 215-6882, or e-mail [email protected] to be added to the bidder list.

    Meanwhile, the company is participating in a hearing today to decide the future of 70 existing franchise locations.

    "The franchisees have an agreement, that agreement is a sublease on the location. [AmeriStop] owns the prime lease … and the company is trying to sell all of the assets, including the prime leases," said Carringer, who noted it is his firm's job "to get the maximum value for the assets, and to do so, the company is attempting to terminate the sublease agreements."

    When asked what he expected to happen today, Carringer told CSNews Online, "We hope to prevail in the motion to give us rights to sell prime leases without rights to occupancy, which will create the highest value and generate the broadest group of bidders. … We are obligated to do with our creditors."

    However, a number of the franchisees have voiced opposition to the motion. Of the 70 franchisees with subleases, 63 have hired lawyer Marcia Andrew of the Cincinnati law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister to represent them at today's hearing.

    "We have objected to the trustee's motion on a number of legal grounds, but the main one is that the franchisees have a right under federal bankruptcy code to remain in their subleases for the duration of those agreements," she told the paper.

    Franchise owner Todd Daniels, along with his two brothers and father, own franchise rights to stores in Blue Ash, Monroe, Trenton and Lebanon, Ohio, and told the Cincinnati Enquirer a decision to sell the prime leases could put him out of business.

    "If they dissolve our franchise agreements, it basically opens up our leases to be sold to anyone, right out from underneath us," Daniels told the paper.

    While the franchisees could have an opportunity to bid on the leases at the auction, Daniels told the paper it's unlikely he would win.

    "There's plenty of big chains out there that could come in and outbid us," he told the Enquirer.

    Another franchisee, Joe Hancock, who owns interest in seven stores across the region, said the move would be an immense loss.

    "Somebody could push us out of our stores and take our livelihood away from us for the benefit of a secured creditor," Hancock told the paper. "That's what keeps us up at night."

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