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    SSP Partners Closes Deal

    Acquisition from El Paso Corp. includes 121 Coastal stores and distribution to 38 independent units.

    SSP Partners Inc., the Corpus Christi, Texas-based operator of 184 Circle K convenience stores, yesterday closed on its deal to acquire 121 Coastal Mart convenience stores from San Antonio-based El Paso Corp.

    Terms of the deal, which also includes 23 unattended gas stations and the distribution rights to 15 jobber locations, were not disclosed.

    "Our company has now completed nine successful acquisitions in 13 years and we are very pleased that every deal has been closed on a timely basis," said Sam Susser, president and CEO of SSP Partners. "This particular transaction was a challenge given the deteriorating condition of the capital markets. Now that the transaction is complete, we will return our focus to growing same store sales, improving customer service and employee retention and satisfaction."

    The acquisition boosts SSP's company-owned store count to 305. The company also has a network of approximately 300 dealer locations, 28 unattended fleet fueling facilities and operates the Fuelman/Gas Card network through over 700 units in Texas.

    Since El Paso first announced its deal to acquire The Coastal Corp., the companies have slowly sold off Coastal's marketing assets. In January, Coastal sold 204 company-owned stores -- nearly one-third of its portfolio -- to Bartlesville, Okla.-based Phillips Petroleum Co. and Philadelphia-based Sunoco Inc. Phillips and Sunoco hold the rights to the Coastal brand for 10 years, if they decide to use it that long. Both companies indicated they would rebrand the stores.

    SSP has yet to announce whether it will rebrand its Coastal properties.

    Insiders and analysts told Convenience Store News that El Paso, which became a powerhouse in the natural gas business with the completion of its $24-billion acquisition of Coastal, may decide to focus exclusively on its core business. Coastal controlled an estimated 13 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States.

    In that case, El Paso's company-owned Coastal stores and the supply contracts it holds with dealers and jobbers would go on the selling block. Retailers further speculated the Coastal brand could disappear within a few years.

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