Sell-off leaves some out of pocket

SMALL businesses in Suffolk are among those left counting the cost after the owner of gift shop chain Past Times went into administration.

SMALL businesses in Suffolk are among those left counting the cost after the owner of gift shop chain Past Times went into administration.

The parent company of Past Times, which has 95 stores in the UK including one in Ipswich, went into administration on December 30 with creditor debts totalling around £25million.

It was the largest business of parent company Retail Variations which had expanded the business since buying it from administrators in 2001.

Past Times, which specialises in gifts with an historic theme, has since been acquired by new owners EPIC Reconstruction, a private equity firm which focuses on buying and turning around under-performing businesses, but creditors of the previous owner face being left out of pocket.

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Textile company managing director and owner Stuart Morris, of Stuart Morris Textiles, based at Hadleigh, said his business was still owed around £52,000, and the news had hit them hard.

“It's obviously a severe blow to our cash flow losing that sort of money,” he said. “The most we can hope for really is they are talking about getting 10 to 12% back so it's basically just a complete write-off. We'll survive it but it's not exactly the sort of thing you want to happen to you.”

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The firm had mainly been producing teeshirts for the store, but had also supplied other items, including silk scarves and aprons, he said.

“I have been running my business for 25 years and this sort of blow does a huge amount of damage to you and your staff,” he said.

The news that the company was going into administration came as a surprise to him, he said.

“There was no indication whatsoever they were in trouble. We have actually been dealing with them for eight or nine years,” he said “The phone calls I had prior to this happening right through December were all very upbeat.”

Tony Carter, managing director and joint owner of Carter Ceramic Designs in Debenham, which makes teapots, said his company was also owed money by the chain store, but would survive the blow.

“They put a hole in us, but it's over the water line,” he said. “No company can afford to lose money, and especially in very difficult trading times which they are in the high street. But we are a well-founded company and we can ride it.”

He did not want to disclose how much they were owed, but said they were owed for several hundred teapots and it was “a substantial order”.

Tim Bell, co-owner of Old Hamlet Wine and Spice Company, near Lavenham, said they were owed nearly £8,000 after delivering mulled wine kits shortly before the company went into administration.

Simon Glyn, a partner at administrators Vantis, said there were in excess of 600 or 700 creditors in total and probably nearer 1,000. They were anticipating they would be able to recoup 12p in the pound for creditors depending on various factors.

He added that that because they had been able to sell the business as a going concern, the new company trading in the shops had been able continue to trade with a number of the suppliers.

Creditors are due to meet to discuss the situation at a meeting at a London hotel on Friday .

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