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Originally published Monday, March 7, 2011 at 3:33 PM

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Savers expands thrift-store footprint with Unique Thrift acquisition

Savers, a large thrift-store chain based in Bellevue, said Monday it's expanding its retail footprint to the Washington, D. C., area and adding to...

Seattle Times business reporter

Savers, a large thrift-store chain based in Bellevue, said Monday it's expanding its retail footprint to the Washington, D.C., area and adding to its Midwest presence with the purchase of 18 locations from Unique Thrift.

Privately-held Savers is paying Unique Thrift's corporate parent, Minnesota-based Apogee Retail, $180 million for the 18 stores, said Chief Executive Ken Alterman.

Savers operates 252 thrift stores in the U.S., Canada and Australia under the names Savers, Value Village and Village des Valeurs (in Quebec). It plans to end 2011 with 290 stores, including the 18 locations bought from Unique Thrift.

The purchase gives Savers eight stores in the Washington, D.C., area, five in Minneapolis, two in Kentucky, another two in Colorado, and one in Missouri, Alterman said. Some carry the Value Village name, while others operate under the names Unique Thrift and Valu Thrift.

"It opens up a prime geography in the mid-Atlantic area, which is a place we've not been in," Alterman said.

To pay for the 18 stores, Savers is taking on more debt and relying on cash flow, Alterman said. Private-equity firm Freeman Spogli, which bought about a 50 percent stake in Savers from Berkshire Partners in 2006, is "buying a little bit more stock in the business," he said.

Savers disclosed in a recent regulatory filing that it sold $21.9 million of its common stock to partly pay for a business acquisition.

Alterman said last October he expected Savers to have 2010 sales of more than $750 million, up from about $680 million in 2009. Despite an economic downturn, Savers expanded the past few years as more and more shoppers sought less-expensive alternatives to full-priced stores.

Alterman said the thrift-store chain continues to attract cost-conscious consumers in today's uncertain economic environment.

"I believe a lot of people who may have shopped at the mall before and now are shopping with us don't feel like they're trading down," he said.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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