Belfast Telegraph

Jobs at risk as Eason opens new chapter in rival store

By Margaret Canning

Around 25 Belfast city centre retail jobs could be at risk after Irish bookseller Eason acquired a store from its main UK rival.

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Eason said it is expanding by buying a WH Smith store close to its smaller Donegall Place shop for an undisclosed sum.

The Irish company said staff at both were being consulted on the "full implications" of the acquisition, which will see the WH Smith traded by Eason under licence during the busy Christmas season.

The firm said it will then close it for rebranding and reopen in April - the shutters will then come down on the Eason shop.

Around 26 staff work in the Eason store while 37 work in the WH Smith unit.

It is understood that staff numbers at the former WH Smith premises will stay the same, so the company will seek around 25 voluntary redundancies from staff at both shops.

An Eason spokesman said: "The redevelopment and consolidation plan means that a reduction in the combined workforce numbers will be required in January 2012."

Managing director Conor Whelan said the deal would build "significantly" on its Northern Ireland presence.

"Expanding our retail presence in Belfast will allow us to grow our business and roll out our new strategic retail offering to customers in Northern Ireland," he said.

The WH Smith shop is almost double the size of the existing Eason property.

University of Ulster retail studies expert Donald McFetridge said the acquisition was "a good move" for Eason and boosted their presence in the north.

He said it was not a surprise that WH Smith should close a city centre store.

"Rail stations and airports are where they conduct most of their business."

Eason is a familiar brand north and south of the border where it has operated for around 125 years. The firm has 63 stores throughout the island, including 14 stores in Northern Ireland.

Turnover for 2010 including joint ventures was €298m. But losses were €4.4m - though that was down from €10.1m a year earlier.

There are also 18 Eason franchises in the Republic.

The spokesman said there were no immediate plans to recruit franchisees in Northern Ireland. WH Smith still has stores at Belfast City and Belfast International airports.

WH Smith is a public limited company with over 1,100 stores, of which 560 are in railway stations, airports and other travel spots.