Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

John Lewis confirms eight stores will never reopen

John Lewis has confirmed eight of its stores will never reopen as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on the already financially-challenged business. 

Branches in central Birmingham and Watford are among those closing for good, affecting 399 jobs. 

The Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street – who used to be the managing director of the British retailer – called it a ‘sad day’ for Birmingham and insisted the chain had ‘never made the most’ of its location at the Grand Central shopping centre. 

The flagship shop opened in 2015 as part of a major new redevelopment of the area around New Street station. 

Mr Street said he had been ‘astounded’ by the decision not to reopen the Birmingham site, after he, together with city and economic leaders, put forward several ‘viable alternatives.’

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He had been urging the chain to reverse what he called the ‘dreadful mistake’ of closing the branch, since the proposal was first announced at the end of July.

In a joint statement issued on behalf of the mayor, the city council and West Midlands Growth Company, Mr Street said: ‘Having had a productive meeting and subsequent correspondence with John Lewis bosses, including the chair Dame Sharon White, we are astounded by the decision to press ahead with the closure of the Birmingham store.’

He added that there had already been demand to fill the space vacated by the department store.

Mr Street said: ‘When you consider all of these factors you can only draw one conclusion: John Lewis has failed to make the most of the opportunity that Birmingham has offered them.’

He said the decision to close was no reflection on the ‘hard-working’ staff.

Mr Street said with the 2022 Commonwealth Games coming to the city and as the fasting growing region outside the south east, he would be working to bring more businesses to the Midlands.

He added: ‘It is a great shame therefore that the retailer has decided to quit the city rather than attempt to make a success of any alternative proposal with our support.

‘The Grand Central location is iconic for Birmingham, and we will now work with (landlord) Hammerson to make sure the space is filled promptly and appropriately.

‘Today is a sad day for Birmingham, but one from which we will swiftly recover.’

John Lewis had initially announced the eight stores were at risk of closure last month and has now confirmed plans to shut them permanently. 

In a statement the retailer said the affected stores were ‘already financially challenged’ prior to the pandemic and a number of contributing factors, including the shift towards online shopping which Covid-19 has accelerated, meant these shops would not be commercially viable in the future.

The business said it would work with staff to find new roles where possible.

A John Lewis spokesman said: ‘This is a very sad occasion and one we never thought was imaginable when we first opened these shops.

‘Our expectation was that we would trade in these locations for many years to come, but they were financially challenged before the pandemic and we have not been able to find a way that would allow us to turn that around.

‘We are grateful to those who have expressed their support since announcing the proposed closure last month, and for the incredible professionalism our partners have shown – they remain our absolute priority and will be fully supported over the coming weeks.’

The other affected stores previously announced as at-risk were its At Home stores in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth and travel sites at Heathrow airport and London St Pancras.

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