Dunnes Stores made a dramatic about-turn yesterday (Wednesday) by deciding to remain as the anchor tenant at Portadown’s High Street Mall - but at the expense of the struggling grocery section.
It was a bitter-sweet announcement, with less than half the 50 staff reportedly being laid off.
The clothing section - which creates around 70 per cent of the revenue - is remaining, as are the cafe and the homeware section.
All 50 workers had been placed on 30-day notice eight days earlier, and Dunnes have given no indication why they changed their minds.
It isn’t known whether they were given rates relief, rent concessions or simply had a change of heart. Management in Dublin have declined to comment.
A staff member said, “At least a large proportion of the jobs are staying, and it means the mall will have the lifeblood of a major tenant. But the grocery end will be sadly missed by town centre shoppers.”
Mall owners, Brittas Property, are delighted.
Tracey Jackson, the mall manager said, “It’s great news, and it comes at a time when we have significant companies ‘on the table’ in our bid to fill the empty units in the mall.” She added, “There is a real chance of a convenience store being included - and that will, in some measure, make up for the demise of Dunnes grocery end. And it will give staff alternative employment.”
Ms Jackson added that important announcements were imminent - it is thought that tenants are standing by for at least three of the units, and it will have a knock-on effect in boosting Portadown generally. Such a store would also fill the void of no grocery store in the town centre.
One decisive factor for Dunnes remaining is that they actually own the store. Should they vacate the mall, they would be liable for rates, service changes and fees to the traders’ association. And it would not have been easy to dispose of the giant unit in the current economic situation.
Portadown will breathe a sigh of relief as Dunnes are re-assessing their whole presence in Northern Ireland - they have already closed stores in Connswater (Belfast), Antrim and Ballymoney, and others could follow.
The directors of Dunnes in Dublin are staying silent. Repeated attempts by the Portadown Times to contact them have been unsuccessful. And MP David Simpson is seeking a meeting with chief executive Frank Dunne to try and salvage the entire operation.
Adrian Farrell, president of Portadown Chamber of Commerce, said he was sorry to hear about the grocery department “but at least the mall still has an important anchor tenant”. He added, “It’s sad about the grocery staff, and hopefully they will find new jobs.” Mr Farrell is confident the change of heart will help Portadown generally.