Job loss fears over reports Dunnes to close Northern Ireland store
Fears have been expressed for the future of the Dunnes store in Larne amid speculation the retailer is to close its town centre outlet.
A source told this newspaper that staff had been informed that the branch was set to close its doors in a matter of weeks, putting them out of a job.
DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said he was aware of rumours surrounding the shop and added that it would be a "huge blow" if they were true.
Dunnes Stores has been a fixture in Larne for more than 30 years, having occupied what used to be the King's Arms Hotel on its Main Street junction with Broadway.
Mr Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph: "If the rumours are true, then it would be a bad blow to the town in terms of employment, in terms of consumer choice and in terms of the footfall in the town centre.
"It would be a huge blow - it's one of the anchor stores in the town centre and it does take up a big square footage there. I don't know how many are employed there but I'm sure there's a fair number either full-time or part-time.
"I must say, I'm surprised because any time I've been in it's always been fairly well used. It's in a good location there beside the taxi rank and the bus stop, so a lot of people who don't have their own cars can get access to it and get home again."
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Dunnes Stores employs almost 15,000 people across its 142 stores throughout the Republic, UK and Spain, where they have five outlets.
Their Larne branch is listed as one of 16 in Northern Ireland, the firm opening their first premises north of the border in 1971.
Famous for their 'Better Value' slogan, Dunnes' latest figures in the Republic for the 12-week period ending July 14 showed they were the market leader for the 11th straight time, running with a 21.8% share.
Figures from market analyst Kantar also reported Dunnes was the only one of the big three chains - the others being Tesco and SuperValu in the Republic - to record year-on-year sales growth, up 6.3% since mid-July 2018. The figures also showed that German retailers Aldi and Lidl were eating into the market.
In recent years in Larne Dunnes has faced competition with large Asda and Lidl stores opening, while a Tesco Express is another new arrival.
Danny O'Connor, a former local SDLP councillor, was one of a number of people who took to Facebook yesterday to share their views on the matter.
He said: "I'm saddened to hear that Dunnes is closing, my first thought is for those who will be made unemployed because of this.
"Out of town shopping and people buying over the internet is changing the face of commerce for the worse in my opinion."
He added: "Many people see shopping as more than a commercial transaction, it is also an opportunity for social interaction, especially for those who live alone."
The Belfast Telegraph made a number of calls and sent emails to Dunnes' head office in Dublin yesterday inviting them to comment.
However, at the time of going to press last night they had not responded to our request for a statement.