Debenhams’ flagship Oxford Street store is one of six that will not reopen once the current round of Covid-19 restrictions are eased, as hopes fade for a rescue of the UK department store group.
The retailer, which went into administration for a second time last year and is now in the process of being liquidated, will also not reopen stores in Portsmouth, Staines, Harrogate, Weymouth and Worcester. Roughly 320 jobs will be lost as a result.
The latest closures come after several stores failed to reopen in June and July last year, after the first national lockdown ended, and following several closures at the start of 2020.
They will reduce an estate that comprised more than 160 stores three years ago to fewer than 120.
Administrators at FRP Advisory are “continuing to engage with a number of third parties regarding the sale of all or parts of the business” while planning for a wind-down of the group.
“While it remains our intention to reopen as many stores as possible to complete the stock liquidation . . . the announcement of a renewed national lockdown last week means that a number of stores where we have been unable to agree lease extensions will be permanently closed,” they added.
Staff in Debenhams’ corporate headquarters, which it relocated to offices above the Oxford Street store in 2019 as it tried to reduce costs, will continue to work from home “for the time being”. The company has another support centre in Taunton.
Restructuring experts consider it increasingly unlikely that the company will be sold as a single entity, with rivals instead looking to take over the best stores once the stock has been cleared.
Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has made clear its interest in parts of Debenhams, but it already has a flagship House of Fraser next door on Oxford Street and large Flannels and Sports Direct stores elsewhere on the same road.
The closure of the Oxford Street unit will leave a big gap on London’s premier shopping thoroughfare. The BHS department store that closed in 2016 has been split into smaller units.
Topshop’s flagship store on Oxford Circus could also close if the administrators for Philip Green’s Arcadia fashion empire fail to find a buyer, or if an acquirer cannot agree new lease terms.
The building is owned by another Arcadia subsidiary that is also in administration, and is likely to be sold in order to help reduce the deficit on the group’s pension scheme.
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