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    Swifty Serve Workers to be Paid

    Bankrupt chain could start issuing checks as early as today.

    DURHAM, N.C. -- Employees laid off last week without pay from Swifty Serve Corp., the Durham convenience store chain that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, should get paid by the end of the week, a company official said.

    Jeff Hamil, who became president and chief executive of the troubled company in May, told The Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer a federal judge at the Middle District Bankruptcy Court in Greensboro approved the company's plan to pay the 3,200 workers who were due paychecks Friday.

    In an interview with CSNews Online Monday, Hamil said paying employees was a top priority for the company. Swifty Serve, which had some 3,500 employees at 450 stores, will also pay employees for the final week the company was in business. Hamil said hopes to begin issuing checks immediately.

    "We are working hard trying to put everything together," Hamil said. "We will process [the final paychecks] as soon as we have the hours in the system," Hamil said.

    The company also hosted a job fair Wednesday at its headquarters in Durham to help former employees find new jobs, the report said.

    Swifty Serve's executives have blamed the company's financial failure on mounting debts, rising gas prices and competition from discount retailers. In its bankruptcy filing it listed debts totaling more than $100 million.

    Hamil said the company had several interested buyers, but lenders backed out before a deal could be made. Now potential buyers will have to negotiate with the bankruptcy judge.

    Among interested groups are Clay Hamner and actor Wayne Rogers, who co-founded the company in 1998 and who served as co-chief executive officers until May. The two lead an investment group that owns 29 percent of Swifty Serve. Three other investment firms own the rest of the company, which also operates convenience stores under the names E-Z serve, Swifty Mart, Country Cupboard, Sav-A-Ton and Majik Mart.

    Hamner said that he has already submitted a $93 million dollar bid to buy the top-performing 200 of the remaining 420 stores, the report said.

    Other convenience store chains reportedly interested include Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., Mapco Petroleum Corp. and The Pantry Inc.

    Hamner said that if he is successful, he would model the stores after some of the newer chains that offer fresh foods such as pastries and sandwiches. "You can no longer have stores that rely on cigarettes, beer and cheap gas," he told The News & Observer. "That business model is gone."

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