The John Lewis At Home store on the Purley Way will never reopen its doors.
Croydon shoppers who had made the most of the department store’s limited presence since it opened its out-of-town site had their fears confirmed this morning when John Lewis Partners announced the permanent closure of eight of its 50 stores, including all four of its pared-down “At Home” stores.
Some 1,300 jobs are likely to go as a result of the closures, with 125 partners in Croydon having now begun consultation with their employers.
Today’s announcement also puts at grave risk any possibility of John Lewis and Waitrose between them taking the site of the former Allder’s store in Croydon town centre, one of the key proposals in the now seemingly abandoned £1.4billion regeneration plans from Westfield and Hammerson that were backed by the council.
John Lewis adopted what might be called “the Waiting for Godot” position over their future plans in Croydon. A spokesperson told Inside Croydon, “We look forward to hearing the outcome of the Croydon Partnership review, but until that becomes clearer, we’re unable to comment further.”
In their closures announcement the company said that profits had fallen 65 per cent in the year to January – that is, in 2019 and before covid hit – and that the group has said it is unlikely to pay partners any annual bonus, as it tries to cut costs.
The coronavirus lockdown has accelerated the decline of the old model of high street retailing. Today’s announcement comes on top of 9,000 high street job cut made last week, in a swathe of redundancies at retailers ranging from Harrods to Topshop. John Lewis rivals Debenhams, House of Fraser and Beales have all gone into administration.
The Purley Way John Lewis, with 52,000 sq ft, only opened in August 2010. It’s out-of-the-way location, with Ikea just up the dual carriageway, seems to have made it struggle to establish itself.
The freehold owners had already submitted plans to redevelop the site, and the location also forms part of the council’s plans to build 12,000 flats along the route of the A23, so in the case of this store, John Lewis may well have taken a strategic decision to cut their losses now.
Closed since the covid-19 lockdown began at the end of March, the store’s failure to reopen in the past week while other retailers were coming to terms with business in the “new normal” had raised suspicions. Today, John Lewis said that the store had been “financially challenged” before the coronavirus crisis.
“Before the virus struck, 40 per cent of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60 per cent to 70 per cent of total sales this year and next,” the company said. So why pay premium high street rents when a despatch warehouse is what your business demands?
John Lewis have said that to continue their support for the local community, they intend to provide a Community Investment Fund which will be shared among Croydon projects.
“We know this is difficult news to hear and it is with a heavy heart that we have come to this conclusion,” the company said. “We believe taking these actions now will allow John Lewis to continue innovating and serving all our customers in the future.”
The company said it would seek to find alternative jobs for those who had been working in the permanently closed stores, including at nearby outlets of its sister chain, Waitrose. It will also contribute up to £3,000 towards retraining via a recognised qualification or course for up to two years for any partner with two years’ service or more.
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