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WineFlair in buyout of Curley's but keep familiar name

By Rachel Martin

Off-licence chain Curley's - run by well-known retailers Hugh and Sean Kennedy - has been taken over by rival WineFlair, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

A spokesman for WineFlair said that the firm bought the 11 stores for an undisclosed sum after determining they would "fit in well with our business".

But the spokesman said the famous Curley's name would be retained.

At its peak, Curley's Wine Cellars ran a total of 13 stores and employed over 550 staff.

Brothers Hugh and Sean Kennedy from west Belfast also established the Curley's supermarkets in Belfast and Dungannon. But the landmark stores were sold to supermarket giant Sainsbury's in 2008 in a multi-million pound deal though the brothers retained ownership of the off-licences - until now.

The brothers' company, HJS Developments, still owns west Belfast shopping destination the Kennedy Centre and the Oaks Centre in Dungannon.

Their string of 11 off-licences in Newry, Armagh, Downpatrick, Bangor, Whitewell, Antrim Road in Belfast, Cookstown, Magherafelt and Ballymena - as well as two stores in Coleraine - went up for sale in June.

WineFlair was established in 1970 and originally consisted of two off-licences - one in Carrickfergus and one in Belfast. The company was taken over by its current owners in August 2000 and has continued to expand ever since.

Recently, WineFlair has diversified into the convenience food sector and today works alongside Spar and Vivo in a number of combined stores which offer customers their convenience groceries and off-sales under one roof.

The Northern Ireland chain has 56 stores across the region and employs well over 300 people. WineFlair's annual accounts showed a slight drop in operating profit in 2014 despite a rise in turnover.

In 2014, the company had a turnover of over £27m, up on the 2013 turnover of almost £25m. Last year, the company's annual strategic report emphasised a need to expand "both organically and through acquisition".

Alan McGuinness, WineFlair managing director, said: "We were delighted to have the opportunity to take on a well-established family business to grow and develop our holdings in Northern Ireland."

The price for the takeover has not been disclosed but a statement from WineFlair added that the stores will continue to trade under the Curley's Wine Cellar name for the foreseeable future.

The seeds of the Curley's supermarket business were sown in the 1960s when Hugh Kennedy set up a grocers in Andersonstown, west Belfast.

At its height the company had a turnover of £52m a year.

HJS Developments remains in business - and a spokeswoman for the Kennedy Centre said it currently has 100% occupancy for its units and a footfall of over 100,000 people a week. Hugh Kennedy's nickname as a youngster was Curley, which became the name of the chain.

According to legend, Hugh carried a bomb out of the Kennedy Centre during the Troubles, only for it go off, leaving him hard of hearing.

Meanwhile, the buildings containing Curley Wine Cellar stores in Belfast's Antrim Road, Coleraine, Antrim and Bangor, are expected to go on the market.

Belfast Telegraph

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