Belfast Furniture Mall shock closure after six months
Anger is growing after customers and suppliers of a Belfast furniture firm found themselves suddenly out of pocket when the company unexpectedly closed its doors.
There are fears that Belfast Furniture Mall may have followed its predecessor – the family-run Northern Ireland firm Fultons – into financial difficulties after the store shut last Thursday.
The premises on Boucher Plaza are empty, no furniture can be seen, and a sign on the door directs customers to an email address.
It is understood that some worried suppliers came in to the shop to recover their goods before the store closed.
Irate customers who have put down deposits for furniture told the Belfast Telegraph that their emails and phone calls have remained unanswered for weeks.
Twenty staff say they have also been "left in limbo" waiting on wages and expenses.
The store was reopened with fanfare under the new name by an English consortium in December.
After Fultons went into administration in July 2012, the unit on Boucher Plaza was bought back by developers Corbo and was let to a consortium parented by Finest Furniture Ltd, which was incorporated in May 2013.
One staff member, who did not want to be named, said that while workers had been told that the company would be placed into administration, they had not been paid in weeks.
An insider in the furniture trade in Northern Ireland said that many customers and suppliers felt they had been "stung" by the company.
"It's just crazy what has happened here," he said.
"People were going into the store in March asking questions about when their furniture was going to turn up, suppliers were asking when they were going to be paid and kept getting reassured that everything was fine.
"There are people who are owed a lot of money and goods, and have received no answers."
One of the directors of Finest Furniture was Englishman Andrew Cohen. He is the son of Bruce Cohen, who, along with his two brothers, owned Courts furniture retailer, which collapsed in 2004. The three Cohen brothers had bought Courts in 1946, when it was just a single shop in Cambridge. They turned it into an international business with 98 stores across the UK and 355 throughout the world before it fell into administration.
Andrew Cohen was also once a director of Revolution Galleries, trading as Cost Plus Sofas & Beds, which ran 20-plus shops in the Republic and went into administration in 2013.
The firm was then bought by Finest Furniture Limited, trading as Colossal Clearance Centre, which reopened two stores in Dublin, one in Portlaoise and one in Cork – some of which are thought to have closed down last week. The last director of Finest Furniture Limited to be appointed was Vassos Siangolis, who ran the Belfast store until his appointment was terminated on June 13.