Elaine Watson
Discount booze and c-store chain Cellar 5 has called in the receivers, blaming mounting debts and relentless price slashing from the multiples.
Over 330 stores under the Booze Buster off-licence banner, 60 Right Choice c-stores and about 45 specialist wine outlets under the Wine Cellar fascia are up for grabs, but only parcels of estate are likely to interest potential buyers as a lot of the stores are less than 1,000 sq ft.
Former Somerfield boss David Simons, who took over as executive chairman of Parisa in September 2001, told The Grocer the writing was already on the wall for the company 15-18 months ago owing to debts incurred by the acquisition of the retail arms of brewers Greenalls and Vaux and heavy investment in cafe bars.
The Cellar 5 name was born last year after the cafe bar business was sold off. "All the cashflow and borrowings were going into the cafe bars," said Simons. "We have reduced our historic levels of debt by a considerable amount, however."
Les Ross from receiver Grant Thornton said he had received several expressions of interest in the business, which had struggled to compete in an increasingly cut-throat market.
Although Ross blamed the "market dynamics" for Cellar's problems, Booze Buster's rival Bargain Booze claimed Cellar 5's business model, rather than any lack of buying power, was partly to blame for its downfall.
Bargain Booze sales and marketing manager Matthew Hughes said: "We have made a success in the specialist discount sector due to our franchised strategy as opposed to owner-managed stores."
Simons is understood to have made approaches to potential buyers in late summer when the chain's credibility started to suffer through poor availability.
News of the receivership coincided with the sudden death of Simons' predecessor, Iranian entrepreneur Nader Haghighi, who bought out Parisa's cafe bars in 2001 and sold them to SFI in a £14m deal.

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