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    Ex-Swifty Owners Eye Return

    Clay Hamner said his team of associates would bid for a portion of the defunct chain.

    By Mitch Morrison

    DURHAM, N.C. -- The investment team that navigated Swifty Serve Corp. from the late 1990s until shortly before the chain filed for bankruptcy earlier this month is bidding to take control of the convenience outfit, but for a dramatically cheaper price, CSNews Online has learned.

    Co-founder Clay Hamner, told CSNews Online he has assembled an investment team, which includes many of his longtime associates, that hopes to acquire some 300 of the 420 remaining units.

    "We will make a bid," Hamner said. "Whether we're successful, who knows? We certainly don't want to chase after a bad deal by putting in more money than what we can make. Ideally, we'd like to have 300 of these stores. We'd need at least 100 to 150 to make it worthwhile."

    In an exclusive interview, Hamner said he, partner Wayne Rogers and their investment entourage had sunk $40 million after Swifty hired Jeff Hamill as CEO in April to help turn around a company that was saddled with restrictive lending terms that essentially precluded Swifty from unloading or shuttering many of its weaker units.

    Further hampering Swifty's plight was a changing business model that saw gasoline, tobacco and beer margins decline over the past five years. The company was operating more than 600 sites that were dependent on those categories.

    The company closed all of its existing units Oct. 4 and filed for Chapter 11 liquidation. Under the arrangement, National Real Estate Clearinghouse will auction off the assets in multiple packages, accepting bids on the entire portfolio, specific markets and blocks of stores, Hamner said.

    Hamner said he and his investment partners who served on Swifty's board of directors resigned in August and September to satisfy a complex federal technicality that would have enabled them to stage an opening bid on the assets. Such an arrangement, however, collapsed, when Swifty's lenders ultimately balked at the plan, which would have kept the stores opened while placing the outfit in bankruptcy court.

    The chain hopes to complete a liquidation sale by December.

    In other Swifty news, employees at Florida convenience store received their final paychecks yesterday, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

    When Swifty Serve, Swifty Mart and E-Z Serve convenience stores abruptly locked their doors Oct. 4, more than 180 employees in the Tallahassee area were left without jobs and their scheduled paychecks.

    But last week, their checks were in the mail. "I got the last two paychecks they owed me," said Debbie Beaty, a former Swifty Serve manager in Tallahassee. "But they didn't pay for the 41 hours I worked. They only paid me for 36 hours."

    With its bankruptcy, Swifty Serve closed 26 stores in the Northern Florida market.

    Tallahassee officials, who also say the closings came as shock, said there are jobs available for those workers who have been displaced.

    "Toys R Us just came through here and hired about 30 folks," said Dehryl McCall, Workforce Investment Act supervisor. "I don't think it should be that difficult. We have the Christmas season coming up and a lot of retailers are hiring. They just might have to look in other areas."

    ABOVE: Swifty Serve's former management team (left to right) including co-chairmen Clay Hamner, Wayne Rodgers, Brad Jenkins and Jim Card.

    By Mitch Morrison
    • About Mitch Morrison

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