Monday 27 January 2020

Samantha McCaughren: Dunnes shuts up shop in England as last store closes

Dunnes Stores CEO Margaret Heffernan Picture: Donal Doherty
Dunnes Stores CEO Margaret Heffernan Picture: Donal Doherty
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Dunnes Stores first entered the British market in 1986 with ambitions to expand significantly there. In 2000, it had 10 stores in England and was just starting to expand into Scotland. "We are currently implementing an expansion programme, and plan to open more new stores in the next few years, including the UK and Spain," said a spokeswoman at the time.

Since then, the company - under Margaret Heffernan's leadership - has become intensely private and does not respond to media queries. As revealed in this newspaper last month, Dunnes has been retreating from its shops in Britain for a number of months. Five shops had closed in Scotland, while the second-last English store closed on St Patrick's Day.

I hear that the exodus was completed in recent days with the last remaining store in Northampton closing its doors. Queries to Dunnes Stores customer services confirmed its closure and said that online shopping was the only option for shoppers in Britain. Brexit was one reason for the exit from Britain, according to some reports in the UK. If that is the case, what are the implications for its Northern Ireland business? Or perhaps Dunnes has just weighed up the benefits of keeping a small number of bricks and mortar shops open in Britain at a time when the likes of New Look is closing 60 shops, and other major chains are shrinking store space on the British high street.

The Magnificent Midlands gets ready to feel the Force

In Kerry when they say “May the Force be with you” they are not always talking about Star Wars. Tourism interests in the Kingdom — and up and down the entire Wild Atlantic Way — may just as easily be talking about the force of marketing that has driven thousands of extra tourists to the region ever since the creation of a tourism brand that saw the installation of thousands of helpfully themed signposts. It seems every part of Ireland wants a piece of the marketing magic. Dublin  gets its share, and Ireland’s Ancient East has become the Han Solo to the west coast’s Luke Skywalker. Now the oft-maligned Midlands is to get its turn. The focus, it is understood, will be on forests, lakes and getting away from it all. Failte Ireland will reveal the new branding on April 12, with speculation that it could be anything from the Magnificent Midlands to The Heartlands. Whatever it is, it will hope that it does not end up becoming the Jar Jar Binks of the tourism world.

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High-flying PR man Declan Kearney is taking off for ventures new, my aviation pals tell me. The Aer Lingus director of communications and long-time media go-to-guy at the airline handed in his notice in January and is due to leave at the end of April, I am told. He is believed to have decided that after 15 years at Dublin Airport (where his always calm, knowledgeable and polite manner, regardless of the situation, will no doubt be greatly missed) that it is time for new adventures, after a short, well deserved break over the summer months. Kearney’s time at the airport has of course coincided with perhaps the most dramatic period in the airline’s long history. When he started there, Willie Walsh was CEO and no one knew quite what the future would hold. A series of chief executives, not to mention threatened strikes, pension battles and rapid expansion followed, leading up to the takeover by IAG. Kearney took it all in his stride regardless of the myriad of media queries. His successor will also require the gift of patience at a fast-changing airline in the years to come.

New Irish bar in the Big Apple takes surreal turn

Young Irish bar owner James Morrissey, who owns the Late Late and VNYL in New York, is about to open a new trendy premises, The Woodstock, at an entrance of the High Line — an elevated park and greenway near Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Interestingly, the New York Post and food site Eater report that the bar and restaurant is a partnership with David and Joe Sitt, of Thor Equities.

The Sitts own the property, while Thor Equities is described as a leading real estate company with portfolio transactions and a development pipeline in excess of $10bn (€8bn).

One of the selling points of the new venue will be value — cocktails will be around $10, which apparently is a bargain in New York. Morrissey, whose father of the same name is PR man for Denis O’Brien, a shareholder in Independent News & Media, which publishes this newspaper, will bring 1960s decor and a living-room feel to the new bar. It should attract a few cultural visitors too — a collection of original works of surrealist painter Salvador Dali will also feature.

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Changes to the building which houses Dakota, one of Dublin’s most popular bars and late-night spots, are turning into a bit of a planning headache for low-key publican Paul Keaveny. His company, Widestar, sought retention permission for everything from outdoor seating to new plants.

The company also wanted permission for change of use to part of the buildings formerly known as Fashion Fair from warehouse to offices, as well as an extension.

Planning officials at Dublin City Council gave him a split decision on changes to the property which fronts on to both Drury Street and South William Street. They gave him the go-ahead for outdoor seating for three years, although the size of the area will have to be reduced and any damage to footpaths will have to be paid for.

However, a first floor office extension on the roof to the rear of the buildings was refused as it was considered ‘overdevelopment’ of the site. The council said it “would also result in the dominance of a non-retail use” in the area. Keaveny is appealing the decision to An Bord Pleanala.

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