Hope remains for Dunedin H&J Smith stores

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The door has been left ajar to the chance the Dunedin and Mosgiel H&J shops could stay open but the chain’s Te Anau and Balclutha shops will close at the end of next month.

Dougal McGowan.
Dougal McGowan.
Gore’s shop will be downsized, H&J Smith confirmed yesterday.

The retailer said options for the Dunedin and Mosgiel shops were still being investigated and decisions had not yet been "fully confirmed".

The prominent chain of department stores in the South announced a proposal last month to reduce its network of shops and consolidate its operations back to its home base
of Invercargill in order to secure the future of its retail division.

At that stage, the company signalled the Dunedin, Mosgiel, Te Anau and Balclutha shops would all close.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan felt H&J Smith was doing all it could to hold on to as many employees as possible.

"They’re looking at every avenue they can," he said yesterday.

However, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he was "terribly disappointed" that a rescue package in Balclutha was not taken up.

"I was surprised at the speed it was dismissed.

"I believe there was a viable proposition put to them. It could have made a profitable business more profitable."

The department store’s closure would hurt perception of the district at a time when it was emerging from the Covid-19 crisis relatively well.

H&J Smith managing director Jason Smith said it was a difficult time for the company, its employees, suppliers and customers.

The company had been significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

It was also grappling with increasing wage and compliance costs, an ageing store network in need of capital expenditure, security of supply and competition from multinational chains.

“We’ve carefully considered the options available and the feedback received and remain of the firm belief that our original proposal to reduce our store network is our best and only viable option,” Mr Smith said.

The Te Anau and Balclutha H&J Smith shops will close on July 31, affecting 17 employees.

Seven are in Te Anau and 10 in Balclutha.

Mr Smith said local government officials and landlords had been proactive in helping with efforts to keep shops open.

"However, these efforts don’t resolve all of our challenges."

The main Gore shop will close at the end of August.

By that time, the company expects to have a smaller fashion shop ready for trading.

Twenty-seven employees are affected by the downsizing but the decision to retain a presence in Gore enables the retention of four employees.

Take Note Gore, which includes New Zealand Post and Kiwibank, will also close, affecting seven employees.

However, New Zealand Post and Kiwibank are understood to be pursuing options for relocating within the town.

Outdoor World in Queenstown will close at the end of August, affecting 10 employees.

“We will be making every effort to redeploy staff, where that works for individuals,” Mr Smith said.

“All employees will receive all wages, holidays and redundancy compensation as per their employment agreements.

"Those with no redundancy entitlements will receive a good faith payment."

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