Eason's Northern Ireland business has returned to profit
Republic book retailer Eason's Northern Ireland business returned to profit last year, new accounts from the company have shown.
Despite a difficult period for the retail sector here, the firm reported £148,000 in pre-tax profits in the 12 months to the end of January 2018.
It compares with a £578,000 pre-tax loss the previous year.
The accounts do confirm a slight dip in turnover, dropping from £17.8m to £15.9m in the past year.
The book and stationery retailer reduced its local presence to seven stores this year, shutting outlets in Craigavon and Newry.
The store in the Rushmere shopping centre shut in April, while trading ceased at the Buttercrane shopping centre in July.
It contributed to a cut in its staff numbers here from 120 to 107.
It's understood that the Newry and Craigavon stores were performing reasonably, but shut due to problems in securing suitable long-term tenancy agreements with the landlords.
However, it's believed that the closure of loss making outlets in Ballymena and Newtownards during 2017 has been reflected in the latest reporting.
Eason has confirmed that the four stores it owns in Northern Ireland will not form part of a major sell-off of 13 properties in the Republic, which it hopes will generate €60m (£54m) over the next two to three years for its 220 shareholders.
The retailer sold its Belfast premises at 20 Donegall Place several years ago and took over the lease at 40-46 Donegall Place from rival WH Smith.
Eason currently retains ownership of four premises here in Lisburn, Bangor, Coleraine and Enniskillen.
The others in Newtownabbey, Londonderry and Belfast remain subject to lease arrangements.
It's a stark contrast to its property portfolio in the Republic, which the company has valued at around £80m.
The group is due to put a proposal before its shareholders on September 21, which would see it move to sell off 13 premises in the south.
However, the stores would be leased back and continue to trade as Eason.
In statement, the company said: "The board of Eason Holdings PLC has written to shareholders announcing plans to transfer €20m of capital to create a robust, financially independent retail business and to return the balance of excess capital to Eason shareholders, following a proposed divestment of group property assets."
While no Northern Ireland stores will be sold as part of the plan, Eason has said €2.4m in property assets here will be used to help capitalise its retail business.