High street book seller Eason will not reopen its seven Northern Ireland stores putting around 144 jobs at risk, it has emerged.
The company says that the “devastating” impact of Covid-19 on current and future business and what it says are “the implications of a number of other significant factors on the future prospects and sustainability of the business in Northern Ireland” have led to the decision.
The Irish-owned firm has seven stores here, including its flagship location at Donegall Place in the heart of Belfast city centre.
“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,” it says.
The company says its revenues have fallen by more than 30% since 2016, including previous store closures, with “accumulated operating losses in the period amounting to £1.8m".
“In 2019, prior to Covid-19, the business generated £12.5m in revenues and an operating loss of over £300,000.”
The store closures mean the likely loss of around 144 employees.
“Entering into consultation with our Northern Ireland colleagues about proposals to close the stores in the north of Ireland is very regrettable but it reflects the reality of the serious challenges and growing losses facing the business, which would be unsustainable,” Liam Hanly, managing director of Eason said.
“The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19 and for us it has made a very challenging situation in Northern Ireland considerably worse. We believe the actions we are taking are necessary at this time to ensure our wider business has a sustainable future and to create clarity for our employees in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.”
The Eason stores been closed since March 23 because of Covid-19 and all employees are currently furloughed.
The company has said its business in Northern Ireland “is also at a critical point in relation to long-term leases in a number of primary locations that come up for renewal over the next two years”.
“In light of all these serious issues, the company believes that the outlook for its stores in Northern Ireland is extremely challenging and uncertain and the business is facing significant and growing losses into the future, which would be unsustainable.”
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "This is incredibly sad news for the 144 Eason’s employees and for our high streets as a whole. Eason & Son was a household name and a hugely respected local business, and its closure is a loss to our retail sector”
“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 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”