Debenhams 'first major business casualty' of Covid-19; calls for more support for Cork businesses 

Debenhams 'first major business casualty' of Covid-19; calls for more support for Cork businesses 
Debenhams, St Patrick Street, Cork. The Irish operation is to be put into liquidation.Pic; Larry Cummins

The loss of Debenhams has been described by the lord mayor of Cork as “very sad for Cork”, with business groups calling for assistance for their members to ensure more companies don’t close permanently.

“It’s very unfortunate, given the long association with Roches Stores initially and now Debenhams to the people of Cork,” said John Sheehan. “It’s one of those iconic stores.

“You can see this happening right throughout the UK and Ireland with the current Covid-19 crisis. It’s having a huge economic impact on all sectors of the economy, but city retail has been really badly hit and for some companies unfortunately it’s proving too much.

“It’s very sad for Cork in terms of the store and what it means to people.”

It is understood that, between the St Patrick St and Mahon Point stores, close to 350 people in Cork have lost their jobs. This includes direct employes and those working for individual brands in the stores.

Debenhams chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste said: “We are desperately sorry not to be able to keep the Irish business operating but are faced with no alternative option in the current environment.

“This decision has not been taken lightly and is no way a reflection on our Irish colleagues, whose professionalism and commitment to serving our customers has never been in question.

“The colleagues have been placed on temporary lay-off under the Irish Government’s payment support schemes for employers and we will be working with them to support them through this process.”

Lawrence Owens, chief executive of Cork Business Association, told The Echo the closure was extremely sad.

“The primary concern to everybody at the moment is the amount of jobs that have been lost,” said Mr Owens. “It’s a very sad time. It’s the first major casualty of the Covid-19 crisis.

”I suspect, looking from the outside, that Covid-19 was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the Irish operation

“It’s extremely disappointing — primarily for the people that are working there, and that’s where our first thoughts and concerns will go — but also, we have to look to the future in terms of the vacancy in a prime part of Patrick St. Historically, that area was always one of the most vibrant parts of the city.

“We will be looking to see how we can refit that with a new business of prominence to keep that building and that tradition that building has alive.”

Mr Owens highlighted the need for ongoing Government support for businesses.

“We have to put money into business,” he said. “We have to support them, because if we don’t there’ll be more casualties like Debenhams arising.”

Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber, said the news was very disappointing.

“Debenhams has been a very significant retail business in Cork for many years at both sites on Patrick St and in Mahon Point,” he said.

“It is very disappointing to see the announcement. Debenhams has had financial challenges over the last number of years and the current situation with the pandemic certainly didn’t help.

“It’s a blow, particularly for the staff of both Debenhams stores in Cork — a large number of whom would be with the organisation for quite a number of years and are a very dedicated and loyal workforce. Our thoughts are with them and their families.”

Debenhams is the second major retailer in just a few months that are set to leave St Patrick St, following the announcement by Easons that it is looking to relocate its flagship Cork store.

Mr Healy said that, despite the challenging climate for attracting a replacement retailer, the location is a major draw.

“What you have is a fantastic city-centre location in a city that’s growing population and investment wise,” he said.

“After this crisis we expect that will continue. It really highlights the importance for post-Covid Government support and stimulus for the economy to ensure that the momentum that had been building up in Cork over the last couple of years can restart.”

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