HOUSE of Fraser is making a further retreat from Scotland by closing its store in the centre of Inverness with the loss of nearly 150 jobs.
The announcement shocked the Highland capital, which has been more accustomed in recent years to announcing employment successes, and where the Arnotts outlet is the oldest department store in the city.
In September, House of Fraser announced the closure of Arnotts in Paisley with the loss of 160 jobs. This followed the sale last summer of its stores in Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth.
House of Fraser employed 44 full-time and 61 part-time staff in Frasers in Aberdeen, and 33 full-time and 47 part-time staff in Arnotts in Dundee. Frasers in Perth was taken over by Debenhams with all staff transferring to the new owners.
The Inverness closure will mean House of Fraser will have just two stores - in Glasgow and Edinburgh - remaining in Scotland out of more than 50 across Britain. This year the company opened a new store in the centre of London and a newly refurbished outlet in Birmingham.
However, a company spokeswoman denied it was a further snub to Scotland. "It’s unfortunate but there is nothing to be read into it. It’s a business decision after a review of the portfolio of stores over the last year.
"It is not a policy of moving south."
It is believed the store may be taken over to develop as a mixed site, with shops on street level and apartments above.
The 65 staff and 81 concessions staff at Inverness were told on Thursday that the store is closing after the January sales. House of Fraser is to help with finding new employment.
Generations of Invernessians have shopped at the store, formerly known as Benzie & Millers, Frasers and latterly Arnotts, in Union Street.
House of Fraser, which opened its first store in Glasgow in 1849, took over the store in the 1950s. Despite its central location it is felt it has suffered with the opening of the nearby Eastgate Shopping Centre which added a 70 million extension this year including a flagship Debenhams store.
Simon Cole-Hamilton, director of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: "We know House of Fraser has been going through various re-organisations, and Inverness is not in isolation at losing its store.
"But there are local factors. You can’t have major new developments happening so close and not expect there to be some impact on trading for others.
"It’s been an icon department store in Inverness for many, many years but it’s a sign of the times that more people are moving to do their shopping in closed shopping malls."
Inverness’s provost, Bill Smith, said he was surprised at the announcement.
"It is a blow for our city centre and it is one of the main retail outlets. However it is quite possible that other stores will come in and take up where Arnotts have left off, although it might take a little while."
David Stewart, MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, is urging the company to sell the store as a going concern. He said: "It is very much part of the traditional Inverness shopping scene, is on an original landmark site and, I believe, has many long serving staff.
"I am sure a great many people will join me in being sorry to see it go.
"Due to the buoyant nature of the economy in Inverness at the moment, I hope there will be few problem for Arnotts staff managing to get alternative jobs.
"However, as this has been announced just before Christmas, I realise the uncertainty and worry for staff and their families, and will be doing everything I can to help."