Bankrupt bookstores get new owner

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Notabene, one of Norway’s largest chains of bookstores, is being formally taken over by a new company that’s wholly owned by DNB, the country’s biggest bank and Notabene’s major creditor. The chain filed for bankruptcy last week, six years after its founders sold a majority stake to an investment fund.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday that Håvard Wiker, bankruptcy administrator for Notabene, was in negotiations to find new owners for the chain Monday night. The estate later issued a statement saying that Notabene will be acquired by the newly created Lesi AS, 100 percent owned by DNB Bank ASA.

An earlier agreement between DNB Bank and the Notabene bankruptcy estate, struck just after the bankruptcy filing, allowed all of Notabene’s 139 retail outlets to remain open and continue doing business as usual. Now Lesi will take over 110 of the 139 Notabene stores covered by the bankruptcy filing.

There reportedly was great interest in parts of the chain, but the deal with Lesi/DNB Bank secures a much larger portion of it and its roughly 1,000 employees than the alternatives Wiker otherwise was facing. His law firm expressed “strong satisfaction” with the deal.

It’s believed Notabene, which is not affiliated with a book publishing company (forlag) like many other Norwegian bookstore chains are, owed DNB around NOK 300 million, and that DNB’s Lesi AS will now search for a more permanent owner of the chain. It was originally founded by entrepreneur Rune Nicolaisen and his brother-in-law in 1985. Nicolaisen ran the business until 2006, when he and his brother-in-law sold 60 percent of it to investment fund Reiten & Co. Notabene then embarked on an expansion program, and opened new stores in Sweden and Poland.

Publishing firms Cappelen Damm, which runs the Tanum bookstore chain, and Gyldendal, which runs the Ark chain, were both believed to have been interested in Notabene or parts of it, as was investor and publisher Trygve Hegnar. Hegnar later told DN, though, that he wasn’t. Schibsted Forlag also denied any interest in Notabene and publishing firm Aschehoug has its hands full with its Norli Libris chain, the country’s largest but which remains unprofitable.

newsinenglish.no staff