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NEW YORK CITY-When Vitamin Shoppe Industries Inc. started 25 years ago as a one-store operation selling nutritional supplements from a New York City corner location, few would have predicted its meteoric rise in fortunes. Even fewer would have foretold that the retailer’s 120 locations in 14 states would be acquired by a unit of Bear Stearns in a transaction that sources close to the deal tell GlobeSt.com is valued at around $300 million.

Bear Stearns Merchant Banking revealed today that it has acquired the North Bergen, NJ-based firm from J.P. Morgan Partners and FdG. Vitamin Shoppe’s current CEO Jeff Horowitz, and president and COO Tom Tolworthy will continue to run the company.

“Tom and I are delighted to be working with Bear Stearns Merchant Banking to build this business into the leading supplement retailer offering the broadest product selection at the most competitive prices,” states Horowitz. “We believe we have a lot to look forward to and that this transaction bodes well for the future of our brand.”

Bear Stearns Merchant Banking senior managing directors Doug Korn and Rick Perkal have joined the firm’s board of directors along with group vice president Paul Lehman.

“The prospect of acquiring Vitamin Shoppe, a solid business with industry leading sales per sf and a strong, proven management team, is extremely compelling,” says John Howard, head of Bear Stearns Merchant Banking. “We feel this acquisition represents a tremendous market opportunity, especially as the US population ages and becomes more health conscious.”

Senior debt for the transaction was provided by a lender group led by Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. and BNP Paribas. Subordinated debt was provided by Blackstone Mezzanine Partners L.P.

The Vitamin Shoppe buy comes hot on the heals of Bear Stearns Merchant Banking’s agreement last week to acquire Limited Brands Inc.’s Lerner New York & Co. for a reported $78 million.

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