Friday 22 September 2017

High rates force landmark family furniture firm to close after 35 years

Liam and Micheal O'Brien, who have been forced to close their furniture centre in Killarney
Liam and Micheal O'Brien, who have been forced to close their furniture centre in Killarney
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

WHEN they opened for business there was no such thing as flat-packs or online shopping.

Now, 35 years later, a landmark family business is to close its doors, blaming crippling commercial rates and competition from flat-pack suppliers.

Liam O'Brien faced the hard decision of having to close his furniture shop 'Tim O'Brien and Sons' in High Street, Killarney.

It was started by his father Tim O'Brien in 1977, providing employment for his two sons Liam and Donal and 10 others.

Three people will lose their jobs when the furniture shop closes for good on June 17 -- Liam's son Micheal and two other members of staff. "We were thinking about it for a few years but things have got so bad the place isn't making any profit," Mr O'Brien told the Irish Independent.

He blames high rates as the main reason for his decision but also increased competition from flat-pack suppliers such as Argos, which opened in a retail park outside the town.

Mr O'Brien, who is a member of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce, says rates would have to be halved for him to reconsider. "We're still selling away, we're just not turning a profit," he said.

Killarney Town Council is owed around €3m in unpaid rates from businesses, a sharp rise from the €350,000 it was owed five years ago.

It's a story that's all too familiar in towns all over Ireland and even a busy tourist destination like Killarney bears the visible signs of recession in the number of vacant shop units on its main streets

Mr O'Brien can't even see the prospect of being able to rent the premises to anyone else because of the high commercial rates in the town.

"This place would be ideal for a bowling alley or mini golf course because of the size of it.

"But who's going to open any business when they have to make €500 a week just to pay the rates before they have any rent paid?"

His father Tim originally started out in business with his brother William, bringing turf from Portmagee to Dublin.

Then he branched off into the furniture business, while his brother ran a successful plant hire firm in Cork. Liam has told his mother May O'Brien (93) that when things improve he might consider re-opening his father's business.

"There is a lot of sentiment attached to it but, in the end, when something is not making money it just has to go."

Examiner appointed to Atlantic HomecarE. Business section, page 1

Irish Independent

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