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BERLIN, NJ-In the past two earnings conference calls in March and May, arts and crafts chain A.C. Moore officials indicated they had launched an initiative to study store-by-store performance with an eye on shuttering under-performing units. That effort took a step closer to completion when officials yesterday said that between seven and 10 stores would close by the end of 2008, and that it involves “exiting certain markets.”

A.C. Moore, which operates 139 stores from Maine to Florida, did not reveal where the targeted units are located. A statement from the company said only that they are located in “certain markets where [they] cannot achieve operating efficiencies.” The company had closed a total of just three stores over the past two years.

“Store closings are extremely difficult decisions because of the effect on our organization, our associates and our customers,” says Rick Lepley, A.C. Moore’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “However, we believe that these changes are necessary for the long-term prosperity of our company.

“Improving our overall level of execution at the store and corporate level, installing state-of-the-art systems and optimizing our ‘Nevada Class’ store prototype are paramount at this time,” Lepley says. “In addition to our real estate strategy, we are confident that continuing these initiatives will provide a solid foundation for future store count growth.”

As far as new store openings for 2008, company officials also revealed yesterday that the number would be fewer than originally anticipated. Earlier this year, the intention had been to open 14 new stores this year, but that number has been reduced to “between eight and 12,” according to a company statement.

Related to the closings, company officials say they expect pre-tax expenses to be between $7 million to $9 million, with about $4 million to $5 million of that related to lease liabilities and the rest tied to general liquidation costs, fixture relocation, severance and non-cash fixed asset impairment. The company is also continuing to analyze long-lived store assets under Financial Accounting Standards No. 144 to determine whether the carrying value of assets may not be recoverable.

In an unrelated matter, company officials indicated yesterday that they were rethinking their warehouse and distribution expansion plans. “The company is…currently working with state and local authorities regarding a proposed expansion of the…distribution center facility located in Berlin, New Jersey,” reads a statement. “If the proposed expansion is finalized, the company intends to forego, in the near term, construction of a second distribution center.” Company officials declined further comment.

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