Au Naturale and Ethel Austin workers hope their jobs will remain
THE future of the Portadown High Street store of Ethel Austin and Au Naturale improved midweek, even though the UK-wide company went into administration on Monday.
A spokesman for the firm said that "substantial interest" was being shown in buying over the company and that the jobs could be saved.
Staff at the Portadown store - which was formerly the Woolworth premises and re-opened just last June - are hopeful of their jobs, with the London-based administrators MCR taking control of the 300 stores throughout Britain, where almost 3,000 people are employed.
Around 200 of those jobs are based in Northern Ireland, with stores in Magherafelt, Belfast, Londonderry and Bangor as well as Portadown.
It is the second time within two years that Ethel Austin-Au Naturale has gone into administration. In April 2008, MK One boss Elaihne McPherson took over but she has been unable to turn it around.
Management at the Portadown store said they were not permitted to discuss the situation, but Geoff Boucher, a partner with MCR, said his firm was running the business in the short term with a view to finding a purchaser.
A spokesman for the company said on Wednesday that every effort was being made to secure a buyer for the firm following Monday's shock announcement.
He added, "All the stores are open at the moment and nobody has been made redundant. We are pouring all our energies into finding a buyer and we expect to put out another statement shortly.
"I can confirm there has been substantial interest in the group and things seem to be moving very, very quickly."
It is another twist for the Portadown premises, with Woolworths having closed there at the turn of the turn of 2008-09 in a week that also saw Eason's in High Street Mall and Adams of Market Street pull down the shutters - although both stores have since found other tenants, albeit recent and temporary for the Adams site.
However, this week comes the news that the Country Fare shop in Woodhouse Street - which sells small furnishings - is closing at the end of March after 30 years in the town.
Proprietor Nigel McBride said, "With the recession and out of town shopping, Portadown is going through a tough time. It has been a hard decision after being in business so long, but there's no other decision to be made."
The sportswear retailers Game On - a few doors down from Ethel Austin - is also holding a 'closing down' sale, but director Stephen Foster said he was trying to put together a package to remain in business.
"It's a tough time with the recession," he said. "We are hoping for the best."
The latest closures come in the face of the demise of the Centra premises at West Street which shut up shop last Thursday, causing another major retailing blow for Portadown.
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Weather for Portadown
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South