End of an era as family puts up a ‘for sale’ sign on Barry’s Amusements after 93 years
The entrepreneur behind one of Northern Ireland's biggest leisure businesses has emerged as the frontrunner to buy Barry's Amusements.
Gareth Murphy from We Are Vertigo declined to comment on whether he was interested in acquiring the landmark Portrush business.
Yesterday it was announced that Barry's, which has entertained families in the north coast town for almost 100 years, has been put up for sale.
Owners the Trufelli family said they had not taken the decision lightly, especially given their 93-year trading history.
But with the business being sold as a going concern - and likely for a multi-million pound sum - its future should be safe.
The family, sisters Lisa (50) and Kristina (53), said: "We understand the special place that Barry's holds in the hearts of many Northern Ireland families, but none closer than our own.
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"We wish to thank all our customers who have helped sustain Barry's down the years and our full-time and seasonal employees who have been pivotal to the success of the business. We hope your memories of Barry's are happy ones.
"As family operators, we feel we can no longer give the considerable commitment required to effectively manage the business.
"We hope to pass on the baton to someone who will ensure generations can still enjoy the fun that Barry's offers our local and wider community."
Business advisory firm Grant Thornton has been appointed to find a buyer.
Property mogul Nick Leslau, whose business is linked to the landlord of theme park Alton Towers in England, was reportedly impressed by the town and its attractions during a visit to the Open at Royal Portrush.
He could not be reached for a comment on whether his fondness for Portrush would extend to buying its top attraction.
But leisure operators in Northern Ireland are expected to line up to explore a possible purchase.
Mr Murphy, whose We Are Vertigo business has two sites in Belfast, said he "couldn't possibly say" if he would be interested in Barry's.
But he added: "Barry's is an institution in the leisure sector in Northern Ireland and it's very important that the business continues as it has for so many years."
He said he was a fan of its attractions - particularly its candy floss and Ghost Train.
"I used to visit Barry's most summers with the kids," he added. "I learnt to drive there on the bumper cars."
However, Pete Boyle, the owner of the 29-shop jewellery chain Argento and the Let's Go Hydro waterpark in south Belfast, ruled himself out. "It's too exposed and would need a huge capital investment," he said. "But there are loads of specialists in that sector here who could take it on."
Oasis Retail Services, which operates the slot machines in the centre, was also tipped as a possible buyer, but did not wish to comment.
Daniela Morelli, a director of the equally famous Morelli ice-cream business on the north coast, said people were "in shock".
The two businesses enjoyed an overlap in trade. Ms Morelli added: "Barry's is part of the whole Portrush experience. The season starts when Barry's opens and there's a definite buzz when it reopens and the local kids go down on the first day. That's my memory of going down to Barry's when it opens for the season.
"It would take a special type of person for whom that type of business has been in their blood for generations or would have to be someone from that background or who knows that sector very well."
She said she would always remember the "unique" smell inside Barry's, adding: "It's so familiar but it's hard to describe.
"It's like candyfloss and the smell of whatever they use to keep the machines going. It's just unique."