Ottica Romani, the Rome-based Italian optical retail chain that went bankrupt recently (see previous issue), will be managed by the Sicilian-based chain of Angelo Randazzo until it finds a buyer. Randazzo plans to reopen by Sept. 10 Ottica Romani's 32 stores, of which 24 operate in Rome after winning last Aug. 18 a bid for this special Italian tenancy regime.

The lease management contract, established autonomously by the receiver and the bankruptcy judge, will avoid the layoff of the company's 120 employees and maintain, as far as possible, the chain's value. Randazzo will have a right of first refusal on Ottica Romani's future sale at any time ? a process which is distinct from the bankruptcy proceedings, which will still involve a meeting with the creditors on Oct. 8 to determine their rights.

Ottica Romani is said to owe a total of €31 million, more than double its sales for 2002. Part of the debt will be refunded through the proceeds from the sale. On the other hand, Randazzo may be asked to take over some or all of the liabilities toward Ottica Romani's employees.

The Angelo Randazzo group, which works out of Palermo, already generates annual sales of about €120 million with 92 stores, including several outlets trading under the Optissimo banner in Central and Northern Italy. Randazzo recently acquired the 50 percent stake it didn't own yet in Optissimo. The group is second-largest eyewear retailer in Italy after Salmoiraghi & Vigano', with stores all over the country, including 27 in Rome alone.

Randazzo has reportedly been negotiating the entry of a new investor to help finance a major expansion program, with about 20 openings a year. The acquisition of Ottica Romani could accelerate the process, but it may have to contend with counter-bids by Salmoiraghi, which was not interested in taking over the company's debt, or by Pearle Europe, which already owns the Avanzi chain.