Monday 27 January 2020

Grandiose dreams of capital's most iconic store collapsed in a sea of debt

Ciaran Byrne

THE ambitious and grandiose dreams of Arnotts management to reinvent the store as a 21st-Century Dublin icon have collapsed in a sea of debt of more than €200m.

The Dublin institution became a must-visit destination for generations of Irish people and visitors to the capital.

For almost 175 years, Arnotts, former sponsors of the Dublin football team, enjoyed pride of place as one of Ireland's iconic stores. It was opened in 1843 by John Arnott and famed for its old-style service and colourful history.

It was said Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse stopped off to settle his account at Arnotts in 1916 before proceeding to do battle at the GPO. And in the 1960s, the model Jean Shrimpton caused a near riot when she turned up to the opening of Arnotts' southside branch wearing her trademark miniskirt.

In its more recent history, Arnotts, which is chaired by Richard Nesbitt, the great-great-grandson of the founder, changed hands.

In 2006, Anglo Irish Bank teamed up with investment company Boundary Capital to make a joint €65m investment in the firm for a 45pc stake.


The new investment came after long-term investors, the O'Connor family, sold their 24.75pc stake in Arnotts following a high-profile boardroom dispute with Mr Nesbitt.

The row came to a head in May of 2006 when it emerged that the O'Connors were preparing to offer €200m for the group.

Many observers believed at the time that the bid was a ploy to force the Nesbitt family to buy them out. In the event, the Nesbitts agreed, two weeks later, to pay over €40m for the O'Connors' stake.

Arnotts new managers crafted glossy plans to build a 'Northern Quarter', which would dominate O'Connell Street and surrounding shopping areas -- but it never got off the ground.

Executives proposed a huge €750m redevelopment of a 5.5-acre block into a new shopping, entertainment and residential quarter.

There were to be exotic roof gardens and even a huge 16-floor tower.

Arnotts had also planned to shut its famous sister store Bowyer's in North Earl Street but gave it a reprieve as it went ahead instead with a trendy new store in the Jervis Centre.

That closed last year after the venture failed to capture the public's imagination and now the entire future of the group is in the hands of its creditors, all major banks.

Irish Independent

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