Bankrupt supermarket chain Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. (search) said Friday it agreed to sell 79 of its stores for $38.7 million to 20 buyers who plan to continue to operate them as grocery or liquor stores.

In motions filed in federal bankruptcy court (search), Winn-Dixie said the agreements were preliminary and could be replaced by better offers that may be received at an auction to be held July 18-19 in New York.

The aggregate purchase price is for leases and equipment at the 79 stores.

The agreements include a provision to hire Winn-Dixie employees, who are losing their jobs with the company's decision two weeks ago to close or sell 326 stores and cut 22,500 jobs.

Winn-Dixie also is asking the bankruptcy court for permission to conduct closing sales for those stores they are unable to sell at auction, beginning in August.

U.S. District Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Funk is expected to rule on the motions at a hearing scheduled July 27-29.

Peter Lynch, president and chief executive officer, said more stores may be sold.

"We are working hard to find buyers for additional stores who will continue to operate them as well as offer employment opportunities for our associates," Lynch said.

After the closings, Winn-Dixie will operate 587 stores in the Southeast United States and the Bahamas.