The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has described the closure of Austin’s in Londonderry as dreadful news for the city and a big loss to the independent retail sector.
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This is truly dreadful news, that one of oldest independent retailers in Europe is to close its doors after 186 years of trading in Londonderry.
“This is not just a loss for Derry, but to Northern Ireland’s independent retail sector as whole”
“Austin’s was very much a destination retailer for Derry City Centre and its closure will result in less footfall for the surrounding local traders. Our thoughts are with the fifty three Austins staff and their families at this difficult time”
“It underlines the need for the NI Executive and Derry and Strabane Council to have a co-ordinated strategy to address the many challenges facing Londonderry City Centre and its traders.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Austin’s is the world’s oldest independent department store and an iconic city centre landmark in Derry.
“News that it has ceased trading is a shock to local retailing and our thoughts are with the staff affected by its closure. I will immediately be in contact with all relevant authorities to ensure that the staff are given all the support and help they require as they come to terms with today’s news and as they begin the search for new employment.
“A struggling economy will always result in a struggling retail sector. Derry’s economy is struggling and the sudden closure of Austin’s is testament to that.
“The failure of the Executive to properly invest in the West has left a legacy of economic stagnation and the impact of this has been felt by the staff of Austin’s today. The closure of Austin’s is sorely symbolic of this failure.
“This shocking news again shows just how important it is to promote and protect our city and town centres as retailing hubs. A thriving centre creates a vibrancy and footfall which in turn attracts more businesses. We should be doing everything in our power to make city centres more attractive to retailers.
“The SDLP have again and again attempted to protect our city centres through planning policy. We’ve understood the problem and have used our ministry to protect city and town centres.
“That needs backed up by an economic intervention by other ministerial departments. There are a number of initiatives which could be taken to help city centre businesses, but chief amongst these involves lifting some of the burden of crippling business rates which in too many cases make it impossible for retailers to compete.”