A HISTORIC Northumberland department store has survived a three-year battle for survival after being bought by a retail group in a deal which saves the jobs of its 76 staff.
Robbs department store in Hexham has been bought by the JE Beale retail group following the collapse into administration of its former owner Vergo Retail Limited, which has given itself a two to four week deadline to sell on its remaining 16 operating stores.
These include the Joplings store in Sunderland, which employs over 100 staff following 43 redundancies in May and is currently holding a closing down sale as its owners desperately hunt for a buyer.
It is not the first time that Robbs has been saved. There was an announcement in early May 2007 that it was to close in under two weeks when its then owners Owen Owen went into administration.
The store was saved later that year following a dramatic last ditch purchase by Vergo.
However, Vergo has since been badly hit by the economic downturn, forcing it to bring in administrators MCR last month to help sell on its portfolio of stores. It immediately announced the redundancy of 335 staff across the business, including 20 at the Hexham store.
The 182-year-old Robbs was also earmarked for demolition in 2008 to make way for a shopping development, but the scheme was shelved.
The 76 workers at the store have transferred to Bournemouth-based JE Beale, which runs 12 UK department stores.
Tony Brown, chief executive of JE Beale, said that he was signing a 15-year lease on the building and was looking to get the workforce back up to around 100.
He said: “The way this store has been managed over the last three years has been almost sinful, with a lack of investment and under-stocking two of the main reasons for its lack of success.
“We have a good track record of running market town department stores and are determined to provide Robbs with a profitable future.”
The administrators would not comment on the situation at the Sunderland store, only to say that it was in the “process of closing.”
Sarah Bell, partner of MCR, said: “Following an effective administration process, we are delighted to confirm the sale of such an iconic store in the region.
“It’s positive news for both the 76 company employees whose jobs will be directly transferred to the new owners as well as the local community.”
The news was yesterday welcomed by local councillors.
Hexham councillor Terry Robson said: “This is absolutely fantastic news for the community of Hexham as Robbs is key to the economic health of the area, both as one of the centre’s biggest employers and as a symbol of its importance to the rest of the North East.”