Clothing icon may rise again

The Ethel Austin store in Wigan town centre
The Ethel Austin store in Wigan town centre

THERE is new hope today that a Wigan branch of an iconic clothing brand may re-open.

High Street chain Ethel Austin formerly situated in lower Standishgate – which was closed more than three years ago when the company hit huge financial problems – are on the point of a mini revival.

Three quarters of its 41 store premises are about to be brought out of administration by Ricli Limited.

The new company, which is reportedly controlled by Liric owner, Salford businessman Mike Basso, will complete a phased takeover of the stores and remaining staff by August 10.

Administrators Duff and Phelps have said that Ethel Austin’s shops, head office and warehouse will continue to trade while buyers are sought.

Today the shop workers union USDAW gave the news a cautious welcome.

National Officer John Gorle said: “While we obviously welcome the news that nearly 200 jobs and the Ethel Austin brand appear to have been saved, the transfer to someone who has been closely involved with the business under previous recent owners is of some concern.

“For much of the past four years, Ethel Austin’s long-suffering but loyal staff haven’t even known whether they’d get paid one day to the next and we are still trying to secure payment of wages they are owed when the company entered administration again.

“The vast majority of stores also have no formal lease arrangements and although the administrators are hopeful that landlords will co-operate in the short term, it is possible that some landlords will refuse to allow the business to continue trading - as this morning’s events bear out.

“We remain in close contact with the administrators and I have written to Ricli Limited to request immediate payment of all outstanding wages and to request an urgent meeting to discuss their plans for the business.”

Ethel Austin went into administration for a fourth time earlier this month.

Restructuring specialist GA Europe, which recently took on the massive debt of former Ethel Austin owner Ashloch and was operating the stores while it was in administration, will now start a phased handover of operational stores and former premises to Liric.

Duff and Philips managing director Philip Duffy said: “We are extremely pleased to have concluded the sale which ensures a future for this well established business.

The business was founded by Ethel Austin and her husband George in a Liverpool council house in 1934.

Before the series of administrations, which began in 2008, the company had 300 stores employing almost 3,000 staff.