Our retailing correspondent MT WALLETTE reports on suggestions that House of Fraser is considering the status of its Centrale lease
There’s growing concern among staff and workers at one of Croydon’s last remaining department stores about the future for their jobs.
Workers at House of Fraser in Centrale say that they have been told that the store’s lease expires in August, and that the company seems unlikely to renew it.
House of Fraser head office today declined to provide an on-the-record comment (“We don’t respond to rumours”), but they denied that the company has any plans to shut up shop in Croydon.
It is 12 months since the struggling department store chain announced it was to close more than half of their 59 stores by the beginning of this year, the 31-strong closure list including Birmingham, Cardiff and the flagship Oxford Street branch. Croydon, however, escaped that cull.
Despite such cost-cutting efforts, by August last year the firm entered administration, and was snapped up at a bargain basement price by Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct. Ashley paid £90million for House of Fraser. In 2014, the business changed hands for £500million.
While the company has entered into negotiations with Hammerson, their Croydon landlords at Centrale, for revised terms, it is understood that no agreement has been reached.
Hammerson is half of the “Croydon Partnership” which has been dithering for seven years over a £1.4billion regeneration of the town centre, including Centrale and the Whitgift Centre on the other side of North End.
Centrale currently includes a branch of another struggling department store chain, Debenhams, whose owners have plans to axe 50 of their stores and set up a CVA – a company voluntary arrangement. This will give their landlords two options: much-reduced rent and their Debenhams branch remaining open, or closure and no rent at all.
Hammerson and their Croydon partners, Westfield, announced six months ago that they were to “review” their plans for regenerating central Croydon. Neither business offered any timescale for how long such a review might take, nor when they might actually commence demolition work on a scheme which they have promised the people of Croydon since 2012.
With each annual financial report from companies in the retail sector, and the continued threat of further store closures, the possibilities for a re-built supermall in Croydon appear to recede even further.
A House of Fraser in-store source told Inside Croydon today, “Thus far the Sports Direct owners and Hammerson have not come to an agreement. Staff have been warned that House of Fraser may not renew, creating another massive hole in the already depressing Croydon high street.
“Mike Ashley has made it known to management that some stores will go… I wonder what our magnificently incompetent council will do to try to rescue the situation?”
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