ONE of Banbridge’s oldest independent stores has been given a new lease of life, after a former employee took over part of the premises and saved the 71-year-old business from closing.
Robert Martin’s Hardware in Newry Street is now operating as Bann Hardware after one of the new owners saw it as “too good an opportunity to miss”.
Malcolm Russell, a joiner by trade, worked in the shop for six years but last week opened up as joint-owner of the popular hardware business, which he is leasing from Mr Martin along with Banbridge locals Raymond Smyth and his daughter Amanda.
Robert Martin’s Hardware faced closure after receiving a crippling commercial rates bill of £120,000 last year.
The hardware business, which was opened by Mr Martin’s father in 1940, was refurbished in recent years and, following a revaluation backdated three years, the property’s rates soared to “exorbitant” levels. It is understood the appeal of the rates bill by Mr Martin is still ongoing.
Speaking to the Leader at the end of last year Mr Martin said he hoped to downsize to the Scarva Road but that plan fell through.
Fourteen people faced redundancy as it seemed the shop would have to close. But Malcolm and his business partners have since leased two thirds of the premises and will carry on providing for the hardware needs of the district and beyond.
Malcolm said the store is a feature of Banbridge and as such he is proud to have been able to keep it open.
“I think there is a need for it in the town here,” he said. “It definitely would have been a loss to lose the shop from the town centre where it’s operated from for so long. We were fortunate enough to be able to keep the staff on and I hope we can continue with that.
“I would like to thank Robert for giving us this opportunity. A lot of people were sad to see him go and enjoyed working for him for the past number of decades.”
The store’s front entrance at Newry Street is no longer in use but customers can enter via the Commercial Road side of the business.
“I think there might be some confusion with customers because the full shutter is down at what used to be the front of the shop,” said Malcolm. “But I want people to know we are very much open for business.”