Great Yarmouth store in administration

The future of two Norfolk high street fashion chain stores is in the balance after discount retailer Ethel Austin went in administration.

The future of two Norfolk high street fashion chain stores was in the balance last night after discount retailer Ethel Austin went in administration.

Staff at the chain's Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn branches are among thousands of Ethel Austin and sister homeware chain Au Naturale employees anxiously waiting to see if a buyer can be found.

The company called in administrators because of the economic downturn, competition from rival budget chains, such as Primark and Matalan, and a slump in business due to the bad weather during the January sales.

Administrators MCR have said they cannot rule out store closures and redundancies as it goes through the embattled retailer's books. Stores will remain open while a buyer is sought.

It is the second time in two years that Ethel Austin, which has 276 stores, 3,714 staff and a headquarters in Liverpool, has gone into administration.

The King's Lynn store in New Conduit Street managed to escape a 2008 cull of 33 stores when Ethel Austin was bought out of administration by Elaine McPherson, the previous chief executive and joint owner of MK One.

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Yarmouth's Ethel Austin and Au Naturale opened in November on the Market Place with more than 150 people queuing up to take advantage of free gift vouchers. Its opening created about 20 jobs.

The 20,000sq ft store had previously been a Woolworths which closed in January 2009 when the high street favourite went under.

Yarmouth staff and management would not make any comment about Ethel Austin going into administration.

Union officials from Usdaw are in negotiations with the administrators.

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