ARNOTTS is a name long synonymous with Dublin even prior to the company’s 18-year sponsorship of the Dublin GAA teams.
Perhaps the level of the financial crisis at the 167-year-old store should have been clear when it was announced in June last year that this sponsorship deal would not be renewed.
Founded in Dublin in 1843 by George Cannock and Andrew White, the store that would become Arnotts expanded when bankers Andrew and Patrick Reid invested £6,000 to extend the business.
The most important figure in the store’s history came on the scene after White’s death in 1848.
From Auchtermuchty, Fife, Scotland, John Arnott had arrived in Cork in 1837 at the age of 23 to work at Grants of St Patrick’s Street; he later started a business in Belfast before returning to Cork and opening a drapery store.
In 1848 Arnott went into partnership with the store’s owners. When Cannock departed the company in 1865, the Reids allowed Arnott to give his name to the company.
Arnott was perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of Victorian Ireland, with some of the other businesses he was involved in including Cork Race Park Meetings, the City of Cork Steamship Company and Arnott’s Brewery Cork.
He would also acquire the Irish Times newspaper, with which the Arnott family remained involved until the 1960s.
Arnott had been Lord Mayor of Cork three times, MP for Kinsale and a baronet before his death in 1898.
Four years before his death, Arnotts’ famous store was destroyed by fire, only to be rebuilt the following year.
The store’s success had seen the company opening another in Glasgow. While this store was bought by House of Frazer during the 1930s, it retained the Arnotts name until the 1990s.
Although fighting raged around it during the 1916 Easter Rising, the store was undamaged — company folklore claiming that Pádraig Pearse briefly stop at Arnotts to close his account before joining his comrades in the GPO.
Arnotts celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1993 with significant redevelopment.
The store thrived during the Celtic Tiger era, with families long involved in the company’s management buying all its stock, with the backing of Anglo Irish Bank, in 2003. Since then, Arnotts has been privately owned by the Nesbitt Acquisitions consortium, comprising about 50 members of the Nesbitt family, led by Richard Nesbitt, the great-great-grandson of founder John Arnott.
Following its change in ownership structure, the company, with the backing of Anglo Irish and financier Niall McFadden, embarked on a major property development plan which envisaged the creation of so-called Northern Quarter in Dublin’s north inner city retail area.
This included buying surrounding properties, including Independent House the former offices of the Irish Independent. The ambitious development plan resulted in the departure from the company of the O’Connor family, involved with the firm since the 1940s. In 2007, this family sold their 24.75% stake following a high-profile boardroom dispute with Mr Nesbitt.
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