Jobs in jeopardy as two leading stores in balance

Reporter:

Phil Robinson

A QUESTION mark hangs over scores of jobs after two Wrexham town centre stores were hit by a wave of uncertainty.

TJ Hughes, which employs 41 staff at its 100,000 sq ft branch in Henblas Square, was yesterday hovering on the brink of administration.

And staff at Thorntons in Hope Street were waiting for news of their fate after the chocolate giant announced it is planning to axe 120 of its high street stores.

TJ Hughes, which was bought by private equity firm Endless in March, announced on Monday it was looking to appoint an administrator. Founded in Liverpool in 1912, the firm has 57 stores across the UK, employing a total of 4,000 staff.

In the year to January 31, the retailer lost more than £10m and was on the brink of collapse when Endless acquired it for a “nominal amount” in March.

Endless managing partner Gary Wilson has said the firm is struggling after a 19
per cent like-for-like drop in sales for the last three months.

He said the firm’s rents and staff wages were paid up until this week “but the future remains uncertain”.

No one from TJ Hughes management was available for comment yesterday and the switchboard operator at the Wrexham store said: “We are not making any comment at the moment.”

A spokesman for accountants Ernst & Young, tipped to be appointed to handle the company’s affairs if it goes into administration, said: “We have no comment to make.”

The Henlbas Square branch, which employs two full-time and 39 part-time staff, had a fanfare opening in 1999 as part of a major redevelopment of town centre shopping. With nearby BHS it was one of Wrexham’s two flagship department stores.

Thorntons, which also has outlets in Mold, Chester, Broughton and at Cheshire Oaks, yesterday announced the conclusions of a strategy review to reposition the business over the next three years.

According to a company statement, this will lead to the closure of between 120 and 180 stores over three years.

Thorntons said it would resite or open stores in the UK’s top 100 retail locations if opportunities arise and the potential is confirmed.

The statement added: “Current trading continues to be challenging, in line with our expectations.”

A staff member at the Wrexham store said yesterday: “We have been told not to speak about anything.”

Cllr Rodney Skelland, Wrexham Council’s lead member for regeneration and corporate governance, said: “It’s no secret that retail across the UK is continuing to experience a difficult trading climate.

“Obviously it’s sad to hear about any Wrexham-based business experiencing difficulties and all we can do is hope they find a way through these testing times.

“We should also take encouragement from new retail businesses that are investing in Wrexham, including stores like Discount UK who recently confirmed they are moving into the former Woolworths store.”

See full story in the Leader

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