By Ronan Dodd
North Tipperary has been shocked by the closure of one of Munster’s biggest independent supermarket outlets, O’Connors of Nenagh, with the loss of 70 full-time and part-time jobs.
The centre closed last Thursday. The closure had not been anticipated and the centre had been open for business the previous day. Staff were greeted with the shutters down when they reported for work on Thursday morning and many stood around in tears as the news broke.
Rory O’Connor, director, O’Connors Nenagh Shopping Centre Ltd, said in a statement: “As of Thursday, 26th, May, 2011, the company, O’Connors Nenagh Shopping Centre Ltd, will cease to trade. The O’Connor family greatly regret this decision and the consequences to staff and suppliers. Further information will be made available as early as possible.”
He told the Tipperary Star that because the centre had ceased trading, it would not be sold as a going concern.
He revealed that the centre had been “struggling for a while”, and while they had hoped to keep it open by restructuring borrowings, it had not happened fast enough.
“We were aware for the past three months that we had problems, and had been working on trying to restructure our borrowings, which would not have been that large,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said that the decision to close had to be taken because if they had stayed open, there was a chance that could lead to a charge of wreckless trading.
He said that the business had not been closed by the banks, but on the the advice the company had received.
Mr O’Connor said that the financing had been based on property values but that lettings at the centre had been too difficult.
In the current climate, he couldn’t see too many people being interested in buying the premises, he said, blaming the level of competition and the decrease in the market share of the independent grocery trade on the closure.
Mr O’Connor described the closure as a “sad day for the O’Connor family”, who, he said, “had put a lot of money into it”.
He described the centre as a “institution in the town” and said that the company would work with everybody to make the closure as painless as possible.
O’Connors, as it was known throughout North Tipperary, was opened in 1975 by former town and county councillor Joe O’Connor, and at one stage had a bar and function room, The Friary Court, as well as a drapery department and a toy department, both of which closed in the past number of years. The area occupied by these has since been turned into small trading outlets.
Customers who arrived to do their shopping at the centre were shocked by the closure.
“This is a sad day. We came in here three days a week to shop. We did all our shopping here,” said Sheila Healy from Newtown.
Her husband, Pat, said that the staff were “100 per cent the very best. I was always 100 per cent pleased the way we were treated here.”
Steven Williams from the Petzone store in the centre said: “I am shocked. I was not expecting it. I feel very sorry for the staff. It will not be easy for them to get another job at the moment.”
A spokesperson for Nenagh Chamber of Commerce said: “It is with great sadness we received the news of the closing O’Connors Shopping Centre. O’Connors were pioneers of supermarkets, not alone in Nenagh, but in Ireland. This is a severe blow to to the town with the loss of 70 jobs in an already ravaged indigenous retail sector.
“As a family business, O’Connors gave valuable employment to generations of Nenagh people and always supported local and Irish brands.
“This closure highlights the challenges faced by our local family-owned businesses against the might of the multinationals. It also emphasises the necessity for people to shop local to save local jobs. The Nenagh Chamber will continue to champion this cause.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Seamus Morris thanked the O’Connor family for creating employment for so long in the town and said his thoughts were with the workers.
“I know the O’Connor family would have done everything possible to keep the shop open,” he said.
Mayor Morris said that the closure was a “huge blow to Nenagh”, and would leave an imbalance in the town, with no other shopping outlets on the Dublin road side of the town.
Junior Minister Alan Kelly said: “This represents a major shock to the town.
“My first thoughts are with the workers, many of whom gave long-standing service to the people of Nenagh and the surrounds for many years.
“O’Connor’s has been a long-standing presence in the town.
“Every job lost is a huge blw, not only to the individuals involved, but to the life of the town as a whole,”
“For my part I am committed to working to ensure the workers get their full entitlements and I will do my utmost to make sure proper re-training schemes and labour activation measures are put in place for people who have lost their jobs.
“I will ensure that all possible opportunities are explored fully,” he said.