THE owner of Clerys department store in Dublin has insisted that it remains focused on reopening the store in time for Christmas trading rather than plotting any sale of the business.
The iconic premises on O'Connell Street was damaged by floods in July, forcing owner Gordon Brothers group to close the store. Last month, the outlet temporarily laid off 86 staff for at least four weeks as it set about repairing the damage.
But it emerged in July that Northern Ireland businessman Paddy McKillen has been engaged with Gordon Brothers with a view to possibly acquiring the store just a year after the Americans took control.
Those talks began before July's flooding and are thought to have been initiated by Gordon Brothers.
However, Frank Morton, chief executive of Gordon Brothers Europe, told the Irish Independent that the sole focus of the company at the moment is ensuring Clerys can open in time for the important Christmas trading period.
He dismissed any notion of an impending sale.
"There is nothing under consideration from our perspective," he said. He added that Clerys had been doing well prior to the closure and that the intention was to re-open as quickly as possible to regain that momentum.
But a spokeswoman for Mr McKillen said he remains interested in acquiring Clerys but that talks hadn't progressed because Gordon Brothers remains focused on repairing the store.
Mr Morton signalled that re-opening in November was an achievable target and declined to say how much the refurbishment and repairs would cost.
Gordon Brothers paid just €1m for the famous department store after Bank of Ireland appointed a receiver to the business.
The bank was owed about €25m, much of it incurred following a massive refurbishment of the outlet. But the tough economic climate made it increasingly difficult to service the borrowings.
With the bank taking charge, the Guiney family that had controlled the store for 70 years were squeezed out.
While Gordon Brothers paid €1m for the business, it also assumed €14m of the Bank of Ireland debt, with the remainder having been written off.
Mr McKillen, who's been locked in a legal battle with the UK's wealthy Barclay brothers over the control of a number of luxury London hotels, has a number of plans for Clerys if he takes it over.
He has reportedly held talks with Blarney Woollen Mills, the owners of Meadows & Byrne, about opening up in Clerys to lure tourists, while he's also contemplating bringing in a new restaurant and other changes to the store.
Mr McKillen was a co-founder of the Jervis Street shopping centre in Dublin city centre and is also involved in a new boutique hotel on the capital's Harcourt Street.