THE son of Frank Bird - founder of Barnsley’s flagship menswear business - said he was devastated to see the business he once owned and which still bore his name close this week.

Ashworth and Bird - formerly Frank Bird - closed its doors after almost 80 years in the town on Monday evening. Bailiffs from Sheriff and Penny returned control of the premises to the Bird family at dawn on Tuesday.

They had been called in ‘reluctantly’ by the family who sold the business 11 years ago but still own the building and were owed a ‘significant’ sum in unpaid rent.

After more than a decade of battling with rent issues, including writing off £138,000 in 2014 and agreeing a significant reduction in the years following, Frank Bird’s son Malcolm and grandson Gavin said they were forced to take back control of the premises from business owner Richard Clews.

Malcolm told the Chronicle it was the ‘hardest decision’ he’s ever had to make.

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“When we were in there and it was happening (on Tuesday) I could have cried,” said Malcolm, who took over the shop from his father in 1973. It had opened in September 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War.

“If my father had been here he’d have cried too. It’s a decision we’ve had to take.

“We’ve been struggling to collect rent for quite a large proportion of the 11 years he’s had the business, particularly the last two years.

“We’ve helped him. We reduced the rent in 2014. Most retail rents are quarterly upfront.

“We went in to monthly and then weekly rent. We’ve done everything we could to help him.

“But we felt we could no longer continue subsidising the business.

“We’re very sad at what’s happened, particularly for the members of staff, some of whom we’ve known for many years.”

The store’s neighbours on the Arcade have bemoaned the loss of an ‘institution’ of the town centre.

Designer and former Pollyanna owner Rita Britton, who now runs Nomad Atelier in George Yard, blamed the changing fashion retail industry on the shop’s downfall.

Rita said she had managed to ‘carve a niche for herself’ in her four years with the new shop, but admits it is a struggle.

“One thing I saw happening six or seven years ago in the industry was that the industry is dying from the sale culture,” said the Barnsley fashion guru.

“The sales get earlier and earlier, and we are forced to compete.”

Roger Foulstone, 63, grandson of Tom Foulstone who first opened the menswear shop which sits across from Ashworth and Bird in 1929, called the closure a sign of the ‘state of the high street’.

He said: “I got to know some staff personally and it’s sad they’ve lost their jobs.

“It’s unfortunate but it shows the state of the high street - even with the work the council are doing on the town centre, we’re still struggling.

“But we can only do our best and you can’t keep looking back.”

Sarah Hunter, 60, who runs family firm Kingstone Jewellers, said Frank Bird had been an ‘institution’ since her shop opened in 1981 - calling the closure a ‘big loss to the Arcade’.

Coun Tim Cheetham, cabinet spokesperson for place, said the council had offered support to Ashworth and Bird, including coaching shop managers through the Enterprising Barnsley programme.

“The closure of Ashworth and Bird’s stores in other areas as well as Barnsley is a reflection of the difficulty some retailers are facing nationally,” said Coun Cheetham.

“However, it highlights the importance of spending locally and we’d encourage people to come and shop in our town centre.

“We have business owners who have been in Barnsley for decades and we have businesses that are excelling and expanding.

“Our town has always championed independent businesses and will continue to do so - both as we edge towards the opening of The Glass Works in 2021 and in the years that follow.”

Malcolm said he ‘takes his hat off’ to the council for the town centre redevelopment - and added the family was already in talks with a new tenant for the building.

“I think Barnsley is going to be a very attractive place for shopping, and we’re already in talks with a fantastic new tenant for the building.”