Centrale’s House of Fraser saved – for now – from closure

M.T. WALLETTE, our retailing correspondent, on the latest piece of almost good news for Croydon town centre, as the chairman of one department store talks of the ‘existential threat’ to business on the High Street

Croydon’s House of Fraser has been given a reprieve, as the company named its 31 stores to close

Croydon’s House of Fraser, the town centre’s last remaining West End-style department store, was given a reprieve this morning when it was not listed for closure as part of its parent company’s attempts to stay in business.

But the Croydon store’s future is by no means secure, and much will depend on what deals can be cut over rents with its landlords at Centrale, and the outcome of a crucial vote by creditors on June 22.

House of Fraser announced this morning that it is to close 31 stores, including its flagship Oxford Street store, as part of a desperate rescue plan. In total, around 6,000 jobs will go under the proposal. The 31 outlets will close by early next year under a company voluntary arrangement, or CVA, a form of insolvency that enables a business to rearrange deals with landlords. Creditors are set to vote on the deal, which includes reducing rents by 25 per cent, in a fortnight’s time.

“The retail industry is undergoing fundamental change and House of Fraser urgently needs to adapt to this fast-changing landscape in order to give it a future and allow it to thrive,” said Frank Slevin, House of Fraser’s chairman.

Slevin’s remarks will send a chill down the spines of Croydon’s Glee Club, whose glasses of Waitrose prosecco might still have a slight fizz following last week’s announcement that John Lewis will, eventually, be opening a store in the long-talked-about £1.4billion Hammersfield redevelopment of the town centre, which includes Centrale.

But that won’t be for at least another five years. The reality on the High Street today is far bleaker, as Slevin said: “Our legacy store estate has created an unsustainable cost base, which, without restructuring, presents an existential threat to the business.”

Ay closure of House of Fraser would rip the guts out of Croydon’s Centrale

In Croydon, John Lewis is understood to have been offered five years rent-free to move into the planned Westfield on the site of the old Whitgift Centre.

Marks and Spencer – who are also in the midst of a series of store closures elsewhere in the country – are said to have been given especially generous terms when they agreed to sell their current North End store and move into a new building proposed under the Hammersfield scheme. House of Fraser may expect – and need – similarly generous terms if they are to remain in Croydon.

The House of Fraser rescue package needs approval by a majority of the company’s landlords – including Hammerson, owners of Centrale, and Westfield’s Croydon “partners”. But that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

ITV’s business correspondent, Joel Hills, was reporting this morning: “Not so long ago House of Fraser was busy flogging its department stores on ‘sale and leaseback’ deals to the same landlords it now wants to accept heavy losses.

“There’s anger out there. One landlord has told me they’ll vote against CVA and ‘take my chances in administration’.”

If House of Fraser cannot get the CVA deal past their creditors later this month, it could be that all the stores, including Croydon’s, will have to close. The loss of the House of Fraser would rip the guts out of Centrale, with more than a year to go before even the prospect of work starting on the rebuild of Croydon’s town centre.

Business analyst Richard Lim, of Retail Economics, responded to the House of Fraser move today by saying, “Department stores are incredibly expensive to operate and the last few years have seen costs spiraling upwards from business rates, rents and National Living Wage. These traditional retail business models that hold huge fixed costs are simply becoming unsustainable for some retailers.

“The announcement to close such a significant number of stores highlights the unyielding shift towards online shopping and the over-capacity concerns faced by a significant proportion of the market. The retailer will need to push forward right-sizing initiatives and utilise any excess space to sweat assets more effectively in a move to become fit-for-purpose in today’s digital age.”

Remarks which will hardly inspire confidence in the future of the long-awaited Croydon Westfield, with or without John Lewis.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to Centrale’s House of Fraser saved – for now – from closure

  1. Ah, I wondered why John Lewis had signed on the bottom line… five years rent-free will persuade even the most reluctant tenant to reach for their corporate biro.

    I am astonished that House of Fraser are keeping the Centrale store going. There never seems to be anyone in there in any great numbers.

    Perhaps they know something we don’t?

    • Chetas Patel says:

      When Whitgift closes, Centrale will finally fill up as the stores move over so maybe they are holding on?
      If House of fraser goes, i imagine the space will be carved up and let to the retailers from Whitgift. Good timing if anything
      I’m more surprised about Debenhams still being around, their croydon store is depressing as hell and very Allder-isque

      Does anyone know what will happen to centrale once Whitgift is replaced? Hope it’s not left to rot

      Whitgift, Centrale, North end, London road, George st, Church Street. That is one HUGE shopping area.

  2. The Centrale House of Fraser is relatively modern. Going into some of their stores around the country is like stepping into Grace Brothers.

  3. For years retail landlords have banked on upwards only rent reviews, so it’s all getting rather nasty now that particular cash cow has keeled over in the face off changing shopping trends and business rate rises.

    As for House of Fraser, the one in Centrale has got progressively crapper over the years. As a fat man they don’t usually stock my sizes, and the few things I might be interested in are usually overpriced.

  4. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    Great shame that such household have to face not having an outlet on the high street

  5. derekthrower says:

    This really demonstrates the precariousness of the Retail Sector. The whole economy is now in a state of limbo due to the complete incompetence of the Brexit negotiations creating such uncertainty. If developers are really going to offer long term rent free periods to get anchor tenants what are the following businesses going to demand for committing to be involved in the final development. The developers have given an earliest date for work to start in 2019. When is the latest date?

  6. Lewis White says:

    In a few years time, if things go on like this, the question will not be about a tragedy involving an open top car in an American city, and its main VIP occupant, nor the first landing of a boot on the next piece of major rock in the solar system, it will be
    “Where were you, and what were you doing, when the news was broken about the House of Fraser store Closures? ”

    Glad to see Inside Croydon commentors are clearly a bit shocked about the Croydon retail forward path. Could it be meltdown . Are we at the beginning of the retail endgame?. I hope not.

    It’s now very clear that there is too much shoppping space, floor area. It surely can’t all survive as the kind of shops we have known since Victorian times?

    Yes, the fittest will survive, but will they be big or small, chain or single outlet businesses, and in Croydon, where will they be? In Centrale, in a new Whitgift / Westfield / or a Chinese owned super mall at St George’s Walk, ……. or in yurts?

    I fear that any Inside Croydon readers over the age of 60 (that includes me) may well be dead by the time we know the answer.

    On an even more serious note, although it is hard times in the High Street for shop workers and owners, ( and let’s hope that Croydon gets back on its retail feet quickly) let’s just hope that we never experience a retail boom fuelled by a post-war recovery a la 1920’s and 1960’s following the destruction of 2 World Wars. We must be thankful that the 21st C has so far been quiet on the Western Front, and hope it stays that way.

    On a lighter one, If Inside Croydon contributors visted the town centre more, and spent as many pounds as the number of words they (me included ) write, the prosperity of the new Croydon will be assured.

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