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FRAMINGHAM, MA-With small businesses running out of basic supplies, Staples, Inc. is continuing its measured expansion in both North America and overseas, while also growing its print and copy shops, executives said during the company’s first quarter conference call.

The company still plans to open 55 stores in North America (five in Canada and 50 in the United States), and between five and 10 stores in Europe. Ten new copy and print stores are planned.

“The economy still looks pretty choppy, but we are slowly heading toward recovery mode,” said Ron Sargent, chairman and chief executive officer.

The third quarter should see a pick-up, he added, as the company picks up as recovery continues, the company sees incremental gains on the service side from shuttered Circuit City stores, and businesses run out of supplies and must replenish.

“The cupboard is bare. People have been raiding the supply cabinets and empty offices to use what is there,” Sargent added.

About 400 leases will come up for renewal over the next four years, also giving the company flexibility to downsize or renegotiate lease terms.

Total company sales, including the results of Corporate Express, were $5.8 billion, up 19% compared to the first quarter of 2008. North American comp-store sales declined 8%, while comps in Europe decreased 14%. Net income attributed to the controlling interests declined 33% year-over-year to $143 million

During the quarter, Staples opened 31 stores and closed two stores in North America, ending the first quarter with 1,864 stores. Internationally, the company opened two stores and closed one store in China, opened two units in Portugal, and opened one store in Belgium, ending the first quarter with 333 stores in Europe, 27 stores in China and 2 stores in Argentina.

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