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BIDDING WAR MAY BE BREWING FOR PARENT OF VIX DRUG STORES

A potential last-minute bidding war has put the ownership of the local Vix Deep Discount drug store chain in limbo for at least another week.

A federal bankruptcy court in Youngstown, Ohio, postponed Monday's scheduled asset auction until July 2, in light of increased interest in Drug Emporium, the financially-troubled parent of the Vix chain. To date only Minnesota-based Snyder's Drug has submitted a bid to gain control of the Columbus company, but as many as three more potential buyers have surfaced.

Ohio rival Phar-Mor, which has publicly confirmed its interest, may be joined by two mystery bidders, in vying for ownership of the ailing drug store business.

"I can't disclose their identities, but can confirm that two others have signaled interest," said Terry Moore, Drug Emporium's chief financial officer. "They've requested information and done varying amounts of due diligence. The court extended the auction date a week to accommodate these parties."

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William Bodoh set a new June 27 deadline for bid submissions, and scheduled a July 2 auction date, if there are multiple bidders.

"We'll have a better idea of the situation at the end of the day on Wednesday. It's anybody's guess how many bids will actually come in," Moore said.

Word of additional interest in its parent company and the resulting delay in the bankruptcy-based sale, did not sit well with local Vix employees.

"Here we go again," said a Vix clerk who requested anonymity. "My stomach has been churning since March. It's a terrible feeling not knowing what's going to happen."

In late April, the financially-troubled Drug Emporium announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement with Snyder's. The $25 million deal included a prearranged Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, a strategy which has seen Drug Emporium close and/or dispose of more than 50 under-performing or geographically-distant stores.

The bulk of the affected units were located in Georgia and California.

The deal, which appeared headed for a quick conclusion, was interrupted in April when Youngstown, Ohio-based Phar-Mor announced it was interested in its cross-state competition. A Phar-Mor spokesman indicated that the company expected to one-up Snyder's $25 million deal.

Whoever ends up owning Drug Emporium, it will be the second ownership change for employees of the 12-store Vix chain in the past 2 1/2 years. Drug Emporium bought Vix from Amherst-based Tops Market in January 1999 in a $32.5 million deal.

Vix employees some 600 area workers at stores in Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties.

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