Austins of The Diamond Ireland’s oldest department store has closed its doors this morning with 53 staff being told they have lost their jobs.
The store, in Derry’s Diamond, did not open for business this morning and shutters remain down.
Staff were handed letters from the stores owners describing today as a “very sad day” and saying the recovering had not been strong enough to keep the store trading in “difficult times”.
The letter said all involved in Austins had “done their very best” to save the landmark Derry store - which requires major investment to the internal structure of the building to no avail.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton told the ‘Journal’ that staff had been called to a meeting this morning to be told the store would cease trading with immediate effect and that their P45s were being prepared.
Mr Middleton described the news as a “devastating blow for the city and especially for the staff members who yesterday had a job and were this morning given the news that they their jobs are gone.
“Austins is a landmark building in our city and to see its doors close marks a very sad day for us all. Our thoughts most first and foremost be with the people who were told this morning they are out of work and we must do all we can to support them in the coming days.”
Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sinead McLaughlin added: “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. We wish everyone involved in the store well and we know how committed Austins’ staff are to the business.
“Traditional department stores have had difficulty in surviving. This is not unique to Austins or to Derry. Department stores have been closing right across Great Britain and Ireland. It is a sector that has struggled to survive modern retailing trends.
“That said, the difficulties faced by Austins underline the need for greater action to be taken by our politicians and other policy makers to protect and nurture our city centres. The city centre is the hub of our retailing sector, but it is also much more important than that. It is both an economic and social centre for our society. Action is therefore essential to ensure that it survives and thrives, despite modern retailing challenges such as the internet and out of town shopping centres.”
SDLP Party leader and MLA Colum Eastwood said: “Austins 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 Austins 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 Austins today. The closure of Austins is sorely symbolic of this failure.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Mickey Cooper has said that he is both shocked and saddened to hear that Austin Department Store in Derry is to close and added that the staff must get their full entitlements.
Mr Cooper said: “I am sorry to hear the news today that Austin’s Department Store is to close given the history of the shop.
“Austin’s is the oldest independent departmental store in the world and has graced the Diamond in Derry since 1830 so it is sad that its doors have closed today.
“It is important that the needs of the 53 staff remain a priority and that they get all their entitlements paid in full.
“The famous building that is synonymous with Derry need to remain a viable concern and I hope that the liquidators find a new tenant.”