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Knob Hill Farms, the grocery store chain that sprouted from humble beginnings 47 years ago as a small fruit stand at the bustling corner of Queen St. and Coxwell Ave. in Toronto, announced Friday it will be closing all 10 outlets by Sept. 30.

Jamie Robinson, a spokesman for Knob Hill Farms, said that over the years, the grocery business has become more cut-throat and the stores were increasingly losing money. He would not say how much the privately-held company was losing. In a release, Steve Stavro, president and chief executive officer of Knob Hill Farms Ltd., said that the decision to close the stores follows a careful year-long review of the strategic alternatives for Knob Hill Farms, which employs approximately 800 people. All of its stores are in Ontario.

Mr. Stavro is also chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (MLSEL), the controlling company of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Centre. In response to earlier media reports, MLSEL on Monday said that its financial situation was very good and denied that the Maple Leafs were going to be sold.

Today's announcement will not change the ownership structure of the MLSEL.

"This was a very difficult personal and business decision for Mr. Stavro," said Mr. Robinson, adding that the decision was made with "great reluctance."

Although Mr. Stavro is closing the grocery stores, he will retain the Knob Hill real estate assets. He is working with The Woodbridge Co. Ltd., a holding company of the Thomson family of Toronto, to explore opportunities for development of the properties.

The company said that at this time, no decisions have been made concerning the properties.

According to an industry source, Mr. Stavro has wanted to shut down his grocery business for some time and, with the help of Woodbridge, is looking at various options in terms of development.

Many of the Knob Hill Farm stores are located on choice real estate, such as the popular Dixie mall in Mississauga. Other stores are in the Landsdowne, Cherry St., North York, Scarborough and Riverdale areas of Toronto. Outside of Toronto, there are also stores in Pickering, Oshawa, Markham and Cambridge, Ont.

One real estate player said the properties could be used for industrial development or as residential sites. They could easily be worth more than $100-million, the person speculated.

The Thomson family has had a significant interest in real estate for many years, and it controls Toronto-based Thomson Corp., which owns The Globe and Mail and

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