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Gottschalks trying to sell store sites

In another sign that Gottschalks Inc. appears headed toward liquidation, the Fresno-based retailer has put its individual store locations up for sale.

Gottschalks may yet survive. But real estate experts say an attempt to sell store locations is often a signal that a retailer is preparing for the worst.

A week before Gottschalks' assets are auctioned in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the chain's real estate consultant, New York-based DJM Realty, has released a brochure offering to sell the retailer's 69 locations from Southern California to Alaska, including one in Merced.

In most cases, DJM is offering Gottschalks' leases, although six of the sites are owned by the retailer.

In the fine print, the DJM brochure notes that Gottschalks could be sold as a going concern in the March 30 bankruptcy auction, which means the company would stay open and the individual locations would be pulled off the market.

But saving Gottschalks in such a dismal retail climate is considered something of a long shot, and a consortium of liquidators has the inside track in the upcoming auction.

The DJM brochure is another indicator that liquidation is the likely outcome, said Garrick Brown of Colliers International real estate in Sacramento.

"It's just another dark sign -- a very unfortunate dark sign," he said. "They don't expect this to unravel any other way. None of us did."

Colliers isn't involved in the Gottschalks case.

Gottschalks executives could not be reached for comment Monday.

Gottschalks, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, designated a consortium of liquidators as the lead bidder, or "stalking horse," in the auction. That creates a floor for the auction, effectively guaranteeing Gottschalks' creditors a minimum payment for the company.

The liquidators have agreed to pay 80 percent of the proceeds of a going-out-of-business sale.

Under the rules, anyone outbidding the liquidators would have to pay them a breakup fee of nearly $1 million. That gives the liquidators a leg up.

Last week, Bloomberg business news reported that three firms have expressed interest in bidding to keep Gottschalks open. They include El Corte Inglés, a Spanish retailer that owns 16 percent of Gottschalks' stock.

Any rivals to the liquidators would have to identify themselves by Wednesday.

The auction is to take place in Wilmington, Del., where Gottschalks filed for bankruptcy protection.

If Gottschalks closes, there would be colossal holes at Vintage Faire Mall and Century Center in Modesto and create major retail vacancies in Merced, Sonora, Tracy and Stockton.