Waterstone's has announced that it is seeking a buyer for its three Boston-area stores, including the Exeter Street store in the Back Bay, which opened as the company's flagship store and U.S. headquarters in October 1991. The other two stores to be sold are located at Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston and the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass.

According to Steve Newton, v-p of airport operations, WHSmith USA Travel Retail, "We've consolidated the business in the U.S. to a travel retail operation. We're in no rush to get out of the Boston Waterstone's stores. But they're not part of our strategy going forward." Newton confirmed rumors that the company has been seeking a buyer for the Faneuil Hall store -- which has about seven more years remaining on its lease -- for the past 18 months. The other two stores have just recently been put on the block.

"The bulk of our business has shifted to the Waterstone's stores in the airports," noted Newton. "This is where we see the growth in the business. We'll be opening two new stores -- one in Pittsburgh, our second, and one in Chicago, our fourth -- in the next two months." When they open, Waterstone's will have 22 airport stores; there are an additional 219 WHSmith news &gift stores in U.S. airports. Plans call for doubling the number of airport stores over the next year. All buying for the Waterstone's stores has been transferred to Atlanta, where WHSmith USA Travel Retail is based.

These changes bring the American operations in line with WHSmith worldwide, which over the past year has sold off its own Waterstone's stores as well as its HMV and Virgin stores to consolidate its business in travel retail.

WHSmith now has four primary business components: WHSmith High Street, USA Travel Retail, Europe Travel Retail and News. In addition, the company acquired the Internet Bookshop in July 1998 and, in collaboration with Microsoft Network and BT, developed WHSmith Online (whsmith.co.uk), which was launched late last month. According to a company report issued at the end of April, for the six months ending February 1999, WHSmith reported sales of $2.15 billion and a profit of $173 million. Sales for USA Travel Retail rose 5% to $139 million, with profits of $10 million.