Eason sales in Northern Ireland slump by £3.5m after store closures
Sales across bookstore chain Eason's nine Northern Ireland stores have plunged by €4m (£3.58m) over the last 12 months, it has emerged.
A healthy appetite for reading in Northern Ireland meant the number of books sold increased by 6% on a like-for-like basis, the Irish retailer said.
However, overall turnover in Northern Ireland fell as store closures and Brexit-induced currency swings hit the firm's bottom line.
Over the last financial year the chain closed its branch in Ards Shopping Centre, Newtownards. In January, it also pulled down the shutters on its Ballymena store after 30 years of trading in the Co Antrim town.
The Irish-owned newsagent and retailer's latest circular to its shareholders revealed that the firm made a net profit of just €86,000 (£76,912) for the year ending January 31, 2017, compared to €1.2m (£1.07m) the year before.
Northern Ireland sales were €21.7m (£18.5m) in the year ending January 29, 2017) and €25.65m (£19.5m) the year before - down €4m (£3.58m).
The company's turnover in the Republic also fell by €3m (£2.68m) over the last year.
The largest proportion of the fall was attributed to a 33% drop in wholesale, while franchise income also fell by 7% and retail sales by 1%.
However, on the flip-side, digital revenue increased by 16%.
The 5% fall in turnover across the island was also thought to be partly caused by the plunge in sterling's value following the UK's vote to leave Brexit.
A letter addressed to shareholders read: "The immediate impact of the vote on exchange rates resulted in the year being divided into two halves, with the first six months benefiting from year-on-year price inflation of 10% in books, while the second half was dominated by significant price deflation of 10%."
The retailer was once a staple of many Northern Ireland towns, but hit hard times over the last decade closing several shops as readers began to turn to e-readers and digital versions of novels.
In 2012, Eason's closed two of its Northern Ireland stores, in Carryduff and Westwood Shopping Centre in west Belfast.
At the same time, it also announced the closure of an administrative centre in Belfast's Boucher Crescent with the centre's functions to be transferred to Dublin as part of a restructure.
Eason's now runs nine stores in Northern Ireland, including its £8m flagship store on Royal Avenue, which the chain took over from English rival WH Smith in 2011, as well as its stores in Bangor, Newry, Craigavon and Coleraine.
It comes less than a month after fellow Irish retailer Dunnes Stores closed down in Bangor.