Clerys cafe owner Lorraine Sweeney criticises ‘immoral’ store closure

‘Brutal’ closure was like a ‘mass funeral’, says former SFA chairwoman

Lorraine Sweeney: “We also didn’t think we were dealing with vultures.”

Lorraine Sweeney: “We also didn’t think we were dealing with vultures.”

 

When the clock stopped ticking for Clerys workers in such brutal fashion last Friday, it raised the hackles of one of Ireland’s most prominent small business owners.

Lorraine Sweeney, the hotelier and former chairwoman of the Small Firms Association, is one of the longest-serving concession holders at Clerys. The cafe she opened there 24 years ago was one of her first businesses.

Sweeney is furious at the manner of the closure. The department store was sold by Gordon Brothers to a consortium including businesswoman Deirdre Foley, and the operating business liquidated on the same day.

“We knew it was for sale but we didn’t think it would shut overnight,” she told me this week. “We also didn’t think we were dealing with vultures.”

Sweeney, who also owns the Beshoffs chain and hotels including Summerhill House in Enniskerry, is due to meet KPMG, the Clerys liquidators, today. A formidable operator, she won’t be easily brushed off.

She spent €100,000 three years ago refitting her cafe in Clerys, and she is also owed about €53,000 in monthly takings. In addition, she has had to lay off the 10 staff who worked at the cafe.

What rankles most with Sweeney, however, was the timing of the store’s closure and liquidation last Friday, when the department store would have been in possession of the maximum amount of concession holders’ cash.

“Was that a coincidence? We were due to be paid our monthly takings on the Monday. How can that be allowed to happen,” she said.

On the day of the closure, concession holders were “told to lodge our takings for the day – €2,000 in my case – and then assemble for a meeting”.

The closure was announced on the shop floor shortly after the concession holders had lodged their cash, which is now in the hands of the liquidators.

“It was like a mass funeral. People were bawling – it was absolutely brutal,” she said.

Sweeney maintains that she will pay all her cafe’s creditors in full, despite the closure: “I have no intention of doing it the way it was done to us.”

She is also determined to secure the return of the equipment and fittings from the refit.

“I might only get €10,000 back when I sell it. But I want it back on principle,” she said. “It’s immoral, the way this was carried out.”

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