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ULBRICHS CLOSES HALF ITS STORES

Ulbrichs, one of Buffalo's oldest retailers, closed more than half of its stores last weekend in a major shake-up at the local book and office supply chain.

The 118-year-old company closed six of its 11 stores during the weekend, including its outlets in the McKinley Mall in Hamburg and the Summit Park Mall in Wheatfield.

Ulbrichs President Richard C. Paul could not be reached to comment and a company spokeswoman said the firm would not elaborate on the reasons behind the closings until later this week.

Local retail officials said they were surprised by the closings, which will leave Ulbrichs with five stores, as well as its office furniture and supply showroom next to its company headquarters at 1517 Kenmore Ave.

"I can say we're surprised," said Paul Sciandra, general manager of the Thruway Mall in Cheektowaga, where the Ulbrichs store closed Saturday. "But I can't say why they closed because they haven't talked to us about it."

Some retailers privately referred to recent rumors that Ulbrichs' business had been lagging during the last few years and speculated that the company may be trying to consolidate its operations. Other recent rumors have speculated that another company may be interested in acquiring Ulbrichs.

Ulbrichs still has time remaining on its leases in at least two local shopping centers -- the Thruway and McKinley malls -- Sciandra and other retail sources said. Commercial leases often include clauses that force retailers to pay a penalty for every business day that their stores are closed.

Along with the McKinley, Summit Park and Thruway mall stores, Ulbrichs closed its store in the East Aurora Village Shopping Center. Ulbrichs also closed its stores in Williamsville Place at 5435 Sheridan Drive and the Century Mall, which is next to Northtown Plaza in Amherst.

During the 1980s, Ulbrichs has faced increased competition from chains, such as The Paper Cutter and The Paper Factory, that specialize in office supplies and offer discount prices. Ulbrichs also has faced competition from national bookstore chains such as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton Bookseller and the Village Green Bookstore.

In response, Ulbrichs has placed more emphasis on its office furniture lines and expanded its efforts to increase its sales to businesses and corporations.

Ulbrichs remodeled its downtown store three years ago, consolidating all the retail space on the ground floor of the Main Street facility. The company also remodeled its stores in the Thruway Mall and Southgate Plaza in West Seneca during 1985, the same year the McKinley Mall store opened.

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