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HINGHAM, MA-One chain ends, another begins: as it announced the sale of its J. Jill division, The Talbots has launched its Talbots Upscale Outlet concept, executives said at the company’s first quarter conference call.

Eight outlet stores opened in May, with four more scheduled for this year.

“It is very early, and there is much to learn. But we are very pleased with the initial response,” said Trudy F. Sullivan, president and CEO.

Talbots also recently announced an agreement to sell substantially all of the J. Jill brand assets (acquired in 2006) to Jill Acquisition, LLC, an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity investment firm, for approximately $75 million. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.

“This is a major step forward, allowing us to focus exclusively on the Talbots brand,” Sullivan said.

With J. Jill disposed of, the company can turn to analyzing its remaining Talbots stores. A complete portfolio review is under way, and the number of store closings that will result likely will be higher than the 16 previously announced, said Michael Scarpa, COO and CFO. The company also is reducing corporate staff by 20% as part of an effort to cut $150 million in costs.

For the quarter, total sales from continuing operations were $306.2 million, compared to $414.8 million in the same quarter last year. Comparable store sales declined 26.9%. On an adjusted basis, the company’s first quarter net loss from continuing operations was $12.4 million, compared to last year’s net income of $22.3 million.

The Talbots operates 586 Talbots brand stores in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

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