Town leaders hopeful for deal to save Debenhams stores

Debenhams at the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds is now thought to be at risk after the collapse of Arcadia...

Debenhams at the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds is now thought to be at risk after the collapse of Arcadia Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Town leaders are hopeful deals will be struck to save the region’s Debenhams stores, but one warned that the pandemic is accelerating a move away from bricks and mortar retailing.

Debenhams in Ipswich has Arcadia outlets in store. Picture CHARLOTTE BOND

Debenhams in Ipswich has Arcadia outlets in store. Picture CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The 242-year-old department store chain said its administrators have “regretfully” decided to start winding down operations while continuing to seek offers “for all or parts of the business”.

It is understood that the collapse of rescue talks were partly linked to the administration of Arcadia Group, which is the biggest operator of concessions in Debenhams stores.

Debenhams said it will continue to trade through its 124 UK stores and online to clear its current and contracted stocks.

“On conclusion of this process, if no alternative offers have been received, the UK operations will close,” the company said in statement.

MORE: Debenhams stores set to close after rescue deal collapses

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But town leaders in Suffolk and north Essex hope new tenants will be found.

Terry Hunt, chairman of Ipswich Vision, said it was unlikely one single tenant would be found to fill the whole store.

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“It’s now down to all the partners who run the town centre to find a new use for a very prominent building.

“That probably means mixed use with some residential, some office accommodation and perhaps some smaller retail units.”

Mr Hunt said that the pandemic had was changing the makeup of town centres faster than would have otherwise have been expected.

“It’s down to all parties to keep up with that pace and make wise but speedy decisions to get ahead of the curve,” he added.

Sam Good, Colchester BID manager, said: “With the previous news of possible CVAs for Debenhams it’s given them time for plans to be put in place. Landlords and stakeholders in Debenhams have been planning for this.

“Whether the building is turned into many units or kept as one I’m confident that Colchester can attract new businesses to fill it.”

MORE: Claims of more job losses at Debenhams stores in Ipswich and Colchester

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, said: “Obviously it’s very disappointing that Debenhams have announced their re-funding options have come to nothing.

“Our thoughts are with local employees. It’s such a terrible time to hear that your job is at risk.

“But, it’s our anticipation that they will continue to trade in the run up to Christmas while the overall situation is being reviewed.

“Debenhams has had to be refinanced twice in the past year, but both times the Bury store has continued to trade and been saved. I’m hopeful that will be the case again.

“I know the Bury store is one of the more profitable stores in the whole chain and it would be a huge shame if it were to close.

Despite this, Mr Cordell cautioned: “I would not expect this to be the last national brand that this happens to.

“We’re in some very, very difficult and challenging times.”

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