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Eason set to close its seven NI stores with loss of 144 jobs

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Flagship store: Belfast Eason’s

Flagship store: Belfast Eason’s

Saddened: Glyn Roberts

Saddened: Glyn Roberts

Flagship store: Belfast Eason’s

Northern Ireland's biggest stationer and bookseller has announced that it intends to close all of its stores here with the loss of 144 jobs.

Staff were told last on Wednesday night that Ireland's oldest book retailer, Eason & Son, intended to start a consultation process on proposals not to reopen its seven stores in Northern Ireland.

The Irish-owned retailer has not reopened its stores in Belfast, Newtownabbey, Lisburn, Bangor, Enniskillen, Derry and Coleraine since lockdown restrictions were imposed on March 23.

All employees are currently furloughed.

The company, which has been in trouble for some time, blamed Covid-19 and Brexit for its decision.

It said revenues have fallen by over 30% since 2016, including previous store closures, with accumulated operating losses in the period amounting to £1.8m.

In 2019, the business generated £12.5m in revenues and an operating loss of over £300,000.

In a statement, Eason said: "The announcement follows a detailed review of the stores in Northern Ireland in the context of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on current and future trade and the implications of a number of other significant factors on the future prospects and sustainability of the business in Northern Ireland.

"Employees are being invited to elect representatives to engage with the Company around its proposals as part of a collective redundancy process which is expected to last for approximately 30 days.

"The Eason business in Northern Ireland has remained challenged for some time notwithstanding significant investment in recent years in individual stores and in staff development and training.

"While management and staff have in recent years worked hard on reducing losses in the business, progress has been undermined by significant cost inflation in NI.

"More significantly, the situation has been exacerbated by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on existing trade and the outlook for the business.

"Furthermore, the damage to business as a result of the ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19 has come at a time when the increasing likelihood of a hard Brexit represents a significant additional risk, bringing greater uncertainty and a further undermining of business performance."

Two years ago Eason closed Craigavon's outlet at Rushmere Shopping Centre and its Newry store at Buttercrane Shopping Centre, having previously shut shops in Ballymena, Newtownards and west Belfast.

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Saddened: Glyn Roberts

Saddened: Glyn Roberts

Saddened: Glyn Roberts

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said it was "incredibly sad news".

"Eason & Son was a household name and a hugely respected local business, and its closure is a loss to our retail sector," he said.

"It's not just the loss of the business - it is the reduced footfall for the surrounding traders located beside its seven stores that we also have to factor in.

"Our retail sector and town centres face a long road back and we need the Executive to bring forward a big, bold recovery plan to help create 21st century high streets and to support and grow our local retail sector.

"Our thoughts are with the 144 employees and their families at this challenging time."

Belfast Telegraph