- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

A Roanoke-based auto-parts company will take over 55 stores in the troubled Trak Auto Corp. chain, absorbing one of the last remnants of the retail empire owned by Washington's Haft family.

Advance Auto Parts Inc. said late Tuesday that it received bankruptcy-court approval to acquire the Trak Auto store leases. Advance, the nation's second-largest auto-parts retail chain, said it will spend $16 million to maintain the stores and their inventories.

During the next few months, the stores will be renamed, and the 500 employees who work in them will become Advance Auto employees. Advance said it will not employ any of the corporate staff who work at Trak Auto's Landover headquarters.

Trak Auto filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Norfolk in August last year, citing slow sales and cash-flow problems. The chain said it had 196 stores at the time, but its Web site yesterday listed 94 locations in the District, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"We have agreed to pick up the leases at 55 of their stores. I do not know what will happen to the others," said Sheila Stuewe, an Advance Auto spokeswoman. She could not provide a list of the stores the company will take over.

Several calls to Trak Auto's corporate offices were not returned.

Trak Auto is Washington's latest home-grown retail brand to slip away.

The chain was originally part of the Dart Group Corp., a local empire run by the Haft family that operated some of the region's best-known retail icons, including Dart Drug, Crown Books and Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Dart Drug faded away in the late 1980s, and Crown Books closed some stores and sold others to the Books-A-Million Inc. chain last year. Several Shoppers Food Warehouse stores remain in the Washington area, but the chain is now owned by Supervalu Inc., a Minnesota conglomerate.

Other home-grown retailers that have folded or changed hands include Peoples Drug Stores Inc., which was a precursor to Rhode Island-based CVS Corp. and was bought in 1990; and Giant Food Inc., which Dutch conglomerate Royal Ahold NV bought in 1998.

By the end of the 1990s, the Hechinger Co. home-improvement chain and Woodward & Lothrop and Garfinckel's department stores also had closed.

Richfood Holdings Inc., a Richmond company that bought Dart Group in the late 1990s, sold Trak Auto to a privately held Michigan company, HalArt LLC, for $53.2 million in March 1999.

Advance Auto's acquisition of Trak Auto is smart because the company operates stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic, said Alan M. Rifkin, an industry analyst for financial-services company J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Advance Auto and Memphis, Tenn.-based AutoZone Inc. are the biggest players in retail auto parts, an industry that generated $98 billion in sales last year, Mr. Rifkin said.

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