Uncertain future for Waterstones stores

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THE future of three Wearside bookstores is uncertain, after high street giant Waterstones was sold.

The firm has a branch in Sunderland’s Bridges shopping centre and two in Durham, including one which caters for the city’s student population.

Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut has vowed to secure a “dynamic future” for the firm, after striking a £53million deal to buy the chain from ailing HMV.

A Waterstones spokesman said today the deal would still have to be ratified by shareholders and it was too early to say what effect, if any, it would have on the company’s 296 stores and 4,500 employees nationwide.

Mr Mamut, a friend of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, said: "The business enjoys a great loyalty from its customers and I believe that there is considerable integrity and value in the brand."

The proposed deal, which is still subject to a number of conditions, was announced as HMV revealed a further slide in sales, down 18.8 per cent in the 17 weeks to the end of April.

Debts have also climbed by more than expected to about £170 million.

Talks with lenders over a refinancing are likely to hinge on the successful completion of the Waterstones sale.

Mr Mamut struck the deal through his investment firm A&NN and plans to appoint former investment banker James Daunt, who runs a small chain of London-based bookshops, to oversee the firm.

He said: “This is an important investment from A&NN, which will secure a dynamic future for the UK's largest bookshop chain.”

l Sunderland’s Mothercare store is also facing an uncertain future.

The firm has unveiled plans to close 110 stores across the UK by 2013 after a slump in sales saw pre-tax profits down 23.4 per cent from last year to £28.5million. It is expected to reduce city centre branches and concentrate on larger out-of town stores.

A spokeswoman said it was too early to predict what the plans would mean for individual stores, such as the one in High Street West.