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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Fire alarm signals time on Robbs
Woman shops for clothes
Hexham shoppers will have to go elsewhere if Robbs closes
Employees of a historic department store in Hexham learned that they were being made redundant after responding to a fire alarm.

Bosses at the almost 189-year-old Robbs store deliberately set off the fire bell to clear the building of customers and get staff together in one place.

At the designated fire point, the 140 members of staff were told the landmark store would be shutting in two weeks.

The store's administrators called the decision "efficient and practical".


Kroll, the administrators brought in by Robbs' owners Owen Owen, said that "the closure of Robbs department store was due to become public knowledge before the end of the trading day".

The administrators said that management wanted "to notify their colleagues of the situation before they found out through other means".

As a result, they determined that "the most efficient and practical method of informing their colleagues of this business development was by using the fire alarm".

Not everyone was convinced that it was best method of breaking the news.

"The way we've been treated is appalling and to find out in such a way has infuriated a lot of people," said one worker, who wished to remain anonymous.

Peter Atkins, the Conservative MP for Hexham, said it was a "brutal" way for the department store to end its links with the Northumberland market town.

Robbs, which was set up in about 1818, will close on 12 May unless it can find a buyer.

Liverpool-based Owen Owen has been struggling with cash flow problems since March and has been involved in negotiations to sell its Jopling's store in Sunderland and its iconic Lewis shop in Liverpool.

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