Charles Graham - It’s a vital year for one of Wigan’s big names

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DAVE Whelan has maintained a diplomatic silence over the systematic dismantling of his once great JJB Sports empire.

He’s a tough nut, but it must be distressing for him to see a company, which once boasted 460 stores and was aiming to create up to 300 more across Britain as the boom times continued, unveiling plans which could see the number reduced to as few as 150 in two years’ time.

Particularly saddening, embarrassing even, for the new board at Martland Mill HQ is the appearance of its flagship Grand Arcade outlet on the “at risk” list.

And the plans were announced only the day after an article appeared in the Wigan Evening Post extolling the fact that, despite a rising number of shop vacancies in the borough, the Grand Arcade is chocker.

To lose such a major name in the shopping centre would be a real blow, and could possibly make things awkward for TK Maxx which is the only other retail occupant of the upper floor.

But at least that JJB shop has a chance to do something about its fate by increasing sales before the assessors come round.

As far as its opposite number in Bradshawgate (again up an escalator in a first floor location) is concerned, the writing is already on the wall.

It will be shut by next year and its jobs gone, along with those at 42 other stores including St Helens and Bolton Middlebrook which have been irredeemable as far as under-performance and the state of the company’s finances as a whole is concerned.

Desperate times require desperate measures though and as JJB fights for survival by trimming itself down, raising extra cash through share sales and renegotiating lower rents with landlords, one can only hope that this latest package of measures can put an iconic firm, vital to the Wigan economy, back on a more secure standing.

If the board can achieve this and ride out the continuing economic downturn, it would be wonderful to think of a second coming.

But with store landlords and we the shoppers having a big say, the future lies not just in the board’s hands.