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(Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeSt.com/RETAIL.)

JACKSONVILLE, FL-Bankrupt grocer Winn-Dixie has filed its plan of reorganization with the US Bankruptcy Court in the Middle District of Florida and plans to emerge from Chapter 11 around late October. Part of the retailer’s plan involves opening an unrevealed number of stores over the next few years.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection 16 months ago, had 920 stores at the time of its filing and currently operates 527 units in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi. After its closures it exited the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia. Meanwhile, the company is in the process of selling its 12 Bahamas units.

Winn-Dixie has received a commitment for up to $725 million in exit financing from Wachovia Bank. The financing replaces its current debtor-in-possession financing once the reorganization goes into effect.

The company’s management is proposing a five-year plan for the grocer, which includes the opening of new stores beginning in 2008. The retailer has also taken on number of marketing initiatives, including the slogan, “Getting better all the time,” and plans to stress the freshness and quality of its products in future campaigns.

So far, executives say, marketing and store-closing efforts have paid off. For its quarters ended Jan. 11 and April 15, the company reported year-over-year same-stores sales increases of 7.3% and 6.7%, respectively. As late as Sept. 21 last year, the retailer had reported a same-store sales drop of 2.9%.

Winn-Dixie field for bankruptcy after losing market share to discounters like Wal-Mart, as well as other grocery-store chains.

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