NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- 99-Cent Only Stores ( NDN) said Tuesday that it agreed to be acquired by private equity firm Ares Management and the Canadian Pension Plan for $1.6 billion or $22 a share in cash, a 32% premium to its closing price on March 10 when a separate takeover solicitation was first announced.

The dollar store, founded by the Gold family in 1982, will still have the family-owners as significant minority shareholders after the acquisition, according to a press release announcing the deal. 99-Cent Only Stores shares rose over 4% to 21.40 in early trading, still slightly below the offer price.

In March, private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners offered the Commerce, Calif.,-based dollar store $19.09 a share, in a nearly $1.34 billion deal. Since the first bid, the Gold family and 99-Cent Only Stores formed a special committee to evaluate other potential bids. Meanwhile, shares have consistently traded above the price of the Leonard Green & Partners bid signaling investors anticipated a new buyer might emerge at a higher price. Ares and CPPIB's bid came on the heels of Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management's $7.7 billion February bid for Family Dollar Stores ( FDO) -- that has recently ended without a takeover.

At $1.6 billion, the deal is the 20th largest private equity buyout offer this year in the retail sector according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and it's a sign that even with volatile markets and a pullback in credit some deals still can get done. With consumer spending recently reported to have fallen 2% in 2010, it's also a signal that low-priced retailers are still acquisition targets after Family Dollar Stores ( FDO) and BJ's Wholesale Club ( BJ) received private equity bids at prices above $2 billion. Unlike some bids like Peltz's interest in Family Dollar, 99-Cent Only Stores shows that there are still interested sellers.

With the surfacing of Ares and CPPIB as bidders, the 99-Cent only takeover seems to be on better terms than Trian's push for Family Dollar. "I am pleased to announce this agreement as it delivers significant value to our shareholders," said Eric Schiffer, CEO of 99-Cent Only Stores in a press release announcing the deal. Schiffer added, "We have come to know and respect Ares Management and CPPIB through this process and we believe they will be excellent partners and help us achieve our long term goals as a company." It's a company that is selling at a time of economic uncertainty, which might be a boost to its sales and profit prospects.

Since the onset of the financial crisis and the worst recession since the Great Depression, 99-Ceny Only Stores net income and revenue have grown every year, a distinction from higher-end retailers like Wal Mart ( WMT) and Target ( TGT), whose profitability hasn't benefited significantly from the recession. In the last year, 99 Cent Only shares have outperformed the two retail giants by roughly 40%, not all a result of takeover talks.

With the stock trading above the price of the first 99-Cents Only Stores bids, large hedge fund investors are among the winners of today's roughly 20% increased selling price. After Leonard Green & Partners' bid earlier this year, hedge funds Moore Capital Management, Adage Capital and Alden Global Capital all significantly increased their 99-Cent Only Stores holdings according to 13F filings with the Securities and Exchanges Commission compiled by Bloomberg. For them, the key will be for the company to treat private equity buyers as well as their suppliers. "99¢ Only Stores has never cancelled a purchase order in the Company's history!" the company advertises on its website.

Dollar Thrifty Automotive ( DTG) today announced it has removed itself from the selling block, ending a sale process that's lasted over a year without a high enough bid from a competitor car rental firm. In April 2010, Hertz ( HTZ) began bidding on Dollar Thrifty, submitting a takeover offer of $41 a share, which was subsequently raised as high $72 a share for the nation's fourth largest rental car chain. In September, Avis Budget Group ( CAR) dropped a $1.6 billion competing bid, leaving Hertz as the only likely buyer.

Shares of Dollar Thrifty have fallen since reaching an all-time high above $84 as takeover talks drew longer, antitrust concerns emerged as a result of market concentration issues -- and a spike in oil prices and the sustainability of economic recovery dampened sales. On news of the end to sale negotiations, Dollar Thrifty's stock fell over 2% and below $59 a share in early trading.

In August, Hertz received a second request from the Federal Trade Commission on its examination of its merger proposal with Dollar Thrifty. "We will be monitoring the antitrust regulatory process and other circumstances carefully, and our board will reconsider its recommendation if the situation warrants," said Dollar Thrifty CEO Scott Thompson earlier in the summer.

After reporting a $346.7 million loss in 2008 as a result of the recession and a pullback in auto travel stemming from high oil prices, Dollar Thrifty regained profitability in 2009 and 2010 -- its most profitable year on record since going public in 1997. After growing revenue from recession lows, the Tulsa, Okla., -based company, reported a fall in revenue from the same period a year earlier in its most recent quarter ended June 30th.

According to a recent survey by research firm IBISWorld, the four largest car rental companies in the U.S. control roughly 83% of the market, with Enterprise holding the largest 40% market share, Hertz second at 20%, Avis at 19% and Dollar Thrifty a long fourth at less than 6% of the overall market.

"Having received no acceptable offer after conducting an unprecedentedly open process with clearly articulated requirements, it is time for us to move forward on a stand-alone basis", said CEO Scott Thompson in a statement announcing the end to the company's sale solicitation process.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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