Austins had been in business for almost two centuries...
Its doors were open long before Clerys, Harrods and Macy’s existed, but today Austins of Derry is no more.
The iconic department store, one of the oldest independent retailers of its kind in the world, closed unexpectedly yesterday as the company went into liquidation.
Workers arrived at the distinctive building that takes pride of place on Derry’s Diamond on Tuesday morning to learn their fate – 53 job losses are confirmed.
Despite being in receivership, the store had been working on a positive outcome as it revamped its business.
City Hotel Group, who purchased Austins in November 2014, claim they were not consulted on the matter or given notice of closure. Trading was controlled by Hassonzender Ltd, who ultimately took the decision to bring the shutters down permanently.
The store was established by Thomas Austin in 1830, surviving and thriving through the Great Famine, the partition of the island, the Troubles and more.
In recent times, sales had suffered and it required major investment to return to profitability, not least to improve the internal structure of the building.
Austins issued staff with a letter calling it “a very sad day for everyone” and concluding:
"We have done our absolute best and no-one can criticise us for that. In the face of so many difficulties in retailing, we as a team should all feel justly proud for what we have achieved and to have come this far. As for now, it is with regret that we have no alternative but to close.
We wish to thank you for your services and wish you the best of luck for the future”.
Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of Derry Chamber of Commerce, said:
"It is terribly sad news that Austins has closed its doors. We will all wish that action can be taken to save a business that is an icon for Derry."
Speaking on Highland Radio, Derry’s City Centre Manager Jim Roddy expressed his hope that the Austins building will be back in use as soon as possible. The City Hotel Group retain control of the building, meaning it should not be affected by the end of Austins’ retail activity.