Job fears at Barratts shoe chain as closing down sales begin
Closing down sales are taking place in Barratts stores in Belfast city centre, prompting fears that the shoe retailer is exiting Northern Ireland.
Staff in its stores in Donegall Place and CastleCourt yesterday said the shops were to close, though they had not been told when.
Both shop windows were emblazoned with '50% off' signs yesterday, though only Donegall Place signage indicated that it would close down.
However, staff in CastleCourt said they expected the same fate.
The company's website is also down, and online customers are being referred to the administrators.
Staff in at least one of the company's 13 other stores around Northern Ireland said their stores were also closing, while others refused to comment.
Administrators Duff & Phelps were appointed to run the business last month, including its 15 stores in Northern Ireland, when it entered insolvency proceedings for the third time in around four years.
A spokeswoman for Duff & Phelps had no update on the fate of the Northern Ireland stores but said 19 stores had been closed down in England since the latest administration.
They said last month that they were looking into the company's finances and seeking a sale as a going concern – but they also warned that redundancies and store closures had not been ruled out.
Barratts has faced growing competition from online retailers and has also suffered from the downturn in consumer spending.
Nicky Finnieston, retail director at commercial property agents Lisney, said other retailers had been able to emerge successfully from administration, including those such as JJB which secured buyers for the business before entering administration, a system known as 'pre-pack'.
Barratts had moved stores from one side of Donegall Place to the other, reopening in a unit formerly occupied by Clinton Cards around six months ago.
It's understood it had spent a significant sum of money on fitting it out.
Mr Finnieston said other vacant units in the city centre had been sold.
"We have just sold in Castle Lane, a unit which used to be Carphone Warehouse and was later Claire's Accessories, to a local developer who sees a bit of value in it."
The closure of Barratts stores in Northern Ireland would create unwelcome holes in the high street. A recent report by estate agents Lisney said Belfast's shop vacancy rate had fallen 5.9% to 17.2% in the past year. Ballymena's shop vacancy rate was found to have increased 10% to 27.2%, according to Lisney – though retailers in Ballymena are fighting back.