Town's High Street department store sold

ONE of Colchester's oldest independent department stores, Williams and Griffin, has been sold after more than 40 years in the town, the EADT can reveal.

Annie Davidson

ONE of Colchester's oldest independent department stores, Williams and Griffin, has been sold after more than 40 years in the town, the EADT can reveal.

The High Street store has been bought by Fenwick, an independent department store retailer which has eight other stores across the country including London, York and Tunbridge Wells.

The sale, for an undisclosed amount and hailed as “fantastic for business”, went through on Friday.

Williams and Griffin managing director Jonathan Christie said yesterday the store was expected to keep its name and identity which has seen it win honours including Department Store of the Year in the Drapers Awards 2007.

He said there were no plans to lose any of the 240 staff and the sale “guarantees there will be continued investment in the store and staff and it will continue to go forward.”

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Mr Christie added: “We will keep the identity of the store for the foreseeable future.

“I am staying on as MD - everything is staying exactly the same, the management of the store and the staff are staying the same. There are just different owners.

“There are no specific plans to make people redundant and we don't have a reputation for making people redundant, most staff are very long serving.

“We are continually striving to be more efficient, that's not going to change but there are no plans for redundancies.”

After 17 years working for Williams and Griffin, Mr Christie said he expected the sale to Fenwick would mean more brands coming to the store.

“We aim to be a thoroughly modern department store and we are definitely more inclined towards fashion and beauty and lifestyle”, he said.

“We think we fit very well (with Fenwick) and we will continue to go in that direction.”

Chairman of Fenwick, Mark Fenwick, said: “Williams and Griffin is a good strategic fit for Fenwick and will sit well with our current portfolio.

“We look forward to welcoming the staff of Williams and Griffin into the Fenwick group.”

Fenwick was founded in 1882 and is privately owned by the Fenwick family. Williams and Griffin had been owned by the Ireland family since the 1960s until its sale on Friday.

Donata Rio, communications manager for Colchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a fantastic move and fantastic for business.

“The fact they are keeping the name is the best thing as they have built such a good reputation and Fenwick is already a market leader so it is a good venture for them.”

Colchester Borough Council portfolio holder for business, Don Henshall, said: “I am really pleased they are keeping their name - I think it is a name synonymous with Colchester.

“It could even get bigger and better and let's hope so. It is sad (the sale) but at the same time if it is going to stay on the same basis then it is exciting.

“It has always had a lot to offer the town and given a lot to the town so I am hoping it will in the future as well.”

He added: “We owe them (Williams and Griffin) a debt and it is recognised as a business which has for many years done Colchester proud and they have won awards all over the place which goes to show that if you get the right formula and you do things right you will be successful.”

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