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    Swifty Serve Dismantled

    Clay Hamner, who started the chain in 1997, and co-founder Wayne Rogers bid on just 15 stores.

    DURHAM, N.C. -- Swifty Serve, once the nation's second-largest privately owned convenience store chain, has asked a bankruptcy court to approve the sale of most of its 547 convenience stores. Final offers are in hand for 427 locations valued at $152 million, while negotiations continue for about 90 stores, according to the company administering the sale. Proceeds will go to creditors.

    Former owners and co-founders, Durham developer Clay Hamner and actor Wayne Rogers, had hoped to buy the top 200 performing sites for $93 million and rebuild the chain. But they placed bids for only about 15 stores, according to the Raleigh News Observer.

    So far, the court has accepted bids for 427 stores totaling $152 million. The remaining 120 stores are in the best-and-final offer stage, said Janet Treuhaft, spokeswoman for the National Real Estate Clearinghouse, which is handling the sale.

    "Our price was not as good as they ended up getting," Hamner said. "I don't fault them. I'm very pleased with the amount they are raising."

    The purchaser acquiring the most stores -- 55 -- is Marvin Hewatt Enterprise, a real-estate developer based in Stone Mountain, Ga. The Pantry, a Sanford-based convenience-store chain with 1,289 stores in 10 Southeastern states, placed bids for two stores, in Durham and in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a total of $1.125 million.

    Hamner has modest plans for the stores he is buying in Florida and South Carolina. "If the supervisor [of the Florida stores] finds a good place to build new stores, we'll do it," he said. "But I don't think it will be anything on the scale of Swifty Serve."

    Hamner and Rogers, the actor who played Trapper John in the television series "M*A*S*H," started building the Swifty Serve chain in 1997 with a $5 million purchase of the 62-store Swannee Swifty chain.

    The business took off in 1998 when the company used $54 million in venture capital to buy E-Z Serve, a 488-store chain in Houston. Swifty Serve bought Rome-based Camp Oil in 2000. Hamner and Rogers led a group of investors that owned 29 percent of the operation. In 2000, the company had an income of $610 million, and in 2001, Swifty Serve's income jumped to $813 million.

    But by 2002, the company's profits were falling and it was straining under some $125 million in debt. The company collapsed in the fall and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which later was converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or liquidation. At the time it declared bankruptcy, the company had some 3,200 employees -- including about 120 at the company's headquarters in Durham.

    Swifty Serve operated stores under the names Sav-A-Ton, Swifty Serve, Swifty Mart, Country Cupboard, E-Z Serve and Majik Mart.

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