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VENATOR CLOSING 358 STORES, CUTTING 3,700 POSITIONS

Venator Group Inc. will slash 3,700 jobs and close 358 stores, the latest move by the company formerly known as Woolworth to restructure its business in an attempt to boost sales and profits.

The retailer announced today that it would cut about 30 percent of its sales and corporate staff. That includes about 600 corporate staffers and 3,100 people who work in its stores.

It also will close 123 Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker and Kids Foot Locker stores, 27 Champs stores and 208 Northern Group stores. That includes the disposal of all the Northern Getaway and Northern Elements stores in the United States.

The company operates 10 various Foot Locker stores, three Champs Sports and six Northern Group stores at Buffalo area malls. Venator officials could not be reached to comment this morning on whether any of the local stores will close.

The move reflects Venator's decision to consolidate the management of its Kids and Lady Foot Locker chains into one organization, and to reduce the worldwide Foot Locker staff.

In addition, it will close the Champs distribution center in Maumelle, Ark., and consolidate its operation with the Foot Locker facility located in Junction City, Kansas.

The company will take an after-tax charge in the fourth quarter of $53 million, or 39 cents a share, to cover the costs of the restructuring.

The cost-cutting measures are expected to boost annual pre-tax earnings by about $50 million, beginning in fiscal 2000, the company said.

In the last year, New York-based Venator has closed hundreds of stores and sold off many of its noncore businesses so that it could focus its efforts on its sporting goods divisions.

Venator operates more than 4,000 stores, mostly under the Foot Locker and Champs Sports name.

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