Hundreds of jobs go as Past Times closes half its stores

RETRO-themed gift retailer Past Times today revealed it has closed nearly half of its stores, triggering hundreds of job losses.

The private equity-owned chain has shut 47 of its 98 stores as it battles for survival following dire trading.

It is understood the move led to some 400 redundancies, nearly half of its 1,000-strong UK workforce.

However, Past Times has won a 10-day extension to a notice to appoint administrators to give it more time to carry out discussions with a number of parties interested in buying the business.

It had previously said on December 23 that it planned to appoint administrators after 10 working days, but the deadline expired yesterday.

The group is understood to have suffered over Christmas despite heavy discounting and its range of Downton Abbey-themed memorabilia.

The business has not revealed the locations of the closed stores, but its stores in Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford, Norwich and Southend are among those listed on its website today as still open.

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It is thought the group may yet be rescued in a controversial pre-pack deal that allows companies to buy its best assets out of administration but not have to take on its debt.

Other retailers to have been saved, in whole or in part, thorugh such a deal in recent days include lingerie firm La Senza, outdoor specialist and fashion retailer D2 Jeans. Blacks Leisure.

Past Times sells a wide range of toys and gifts, including teddy bears, mugs, jigsaws and puzzles and stationery.

It is thought to have struggled over Christmas, a period that is particularly important for its business because it relies on shoppers buying its goods as gifts.

The group is owned by private equity firm Epic, which itself bought the chain out of administration in 2005.

It is understood that the group also recently closed 70 temporary stores which had been opened to take advantage of Christmas.