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Debenhams, the end of an era (and 22,000 jobs)

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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On 9 April 2019, Debenhams entered Administration, spelling the end of nearly 250 years of trading, 220 stores and the employment of 22,000 people.

Once a pillar of the high street, Debenhams boasted a proud British heritage that began in 1773 selling luxury fabrics on London’s Wigmore Street in Marylebone. By 1950 it prospered to become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and operating 110 stores. The group only recently bounced back from entering into administration in early 2019, and on the surface its recovery looked promising.

Just last September Debenhams was in expansion mode, opening two new stores in partnership with Alshaya in its biggest international region, the Middle East. It entered Oman for the first time, taking the number of stores in the UAE to 29.

Last October, Debenham’s Silverburn, Glasgow store, won two accolades at the Silverburn Retail awards and was voted Best Department Store and Best Beauty Hall. How far away last October seems.

End of an era

“It’s done. Debenhams were already on very shaky ground prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and 2020 is unfortunately looking like its break year,” commented Nigel Frith, senior market analyst at www.asktraders.com. “Covid-19 has brought all the retailers’ problems to head a little earlier than expected. After 242 years on the high street, there is a good chance that many, if not all of the department stores’ doors won’t be opening after the UK wide lockdown ends.”

“The chain also said it would not be re-opening its business in Ireland after the worldwide lockdown ended, which also means there will be more bad news to follow,” Frith continued. “What we are seeing here is simple - if the firm was in a weak position going into the coronavirus lock down, there is a good chance that it will not be coming out better the other side - and it’s looking like it won’t be. In recent years fast fashion and online businesses have thrived, whilst our more traditional brands have struggled to transform and adapt with the current economic climate.”

“So far, they have now entered administration, but it does certainly look like the end for Debenhams. What once was a thriving high street store is now on the brink of collapsing, taking all 22,000 jobs with it”.

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Image: Debenhams Oman, courtesy Debenhams