John Lewis has announced plans to permanently shut its Aberdeen store in yet another blow for the city centre.
It is one of eight John Lewis shops proposed for closure as the retailing giant rebalances its estate as customers shopping habits change.
The John Lewis Partnership is entering into consultation with the affected workers. Around 265 people are impacted in the Granite City.
Already this year, the city centre has lost Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons, Wallis and Topshop/Topman.
The group had previously announced plans to close stores across the UK as part of their attempts to cut costs, with the Covid pandemic affecting their profits.
They believe they can “no longer profitably sustain” the John Lewis shop in Aberdeen.
Local councillor Ryan Houghton said: “This is devastating news for the 265 staff and for the city at large.
“John Lewis is an iconic store in Aberdeen since 1989. Covid-19 has dramatically shifted the focus on online retail and we will do everything we can to make the high street in Aberdeen an inviting place to do business.
“I hope John Lewis will consider maintaining some presence in the city to support their changing business model as well as properly supporting the staff they will let go.”
Fightback to persuade John Lewis to stay
Local councillor Sandra Macdonald called the news “devastating” but revealed that the council will be going back to John Lewis to persuade them to change their minds.
She said: “We will be going back to John Lewis to discuss this proposal as I believe there is scope for for them to change their minds as they might have jumped the gun a bit early.
“John Lewis creates a buzz about Aberdeen and looking at the demographics where can an older person shop in the city now?
“If the right argument is put to John Lewis and we make a concerted effort to change their mind, it is possible.
“I think with the George Street rejuvenation planned and the money being invested in the city centre, it can persuade them to change their minds.
“It’s not just about Aberdeen, John Lewis is great for the north-east and is a beacon for retail in the north.
“There is a real strong feeling that we need to move past this and John Lewis can’t focus on the past sales and look to future.
“If we can present a proper business case with everyone involved, from businesses to councillors then we can persuade John Lewis to stay.”
‘There is a future in the high street’
Stuart Milne, the chairman of the Greater George Street Traders’ Association, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the news, but remained optimistic.
He said: “I think had they chosen to remain open, they would have been extremely busy.
“When the lockdown finishes, I think that people will flock back to the high street because although the type of shopping has changed dramatically with online things being done, people do like to see things first hand, they like to feel and touch and try on clothes.
“I think for those stores that remain, I would anticipate that they will be extremely busy.
“I do think there is a future in the high street, my aspirations and hopes are not all doom and gloom.”
He added: “It is extremely disappointing, but we’re certainly not dead in the water yet, and we’ll continue to do whatever we can to encourage footfall in the city centre.
“It has made our jobs a bit more difficult, it has to be said.”
Eight stores to close
The other department stores identified for closure are in Peterborough, Sheffield and York, along with include four ‘At Home’ chains in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells.
All of these shops were financially challenged prior to the pandemic.
John Lewis believes that the performance of these stores cannot be “substantially improved” with them expecting 60-70% of sales to be made online in the future.
Jamie Wishart, head of branch for John Lewis Aberdeen, said: “Our store has been at the heart of the city since 1989, with generations of partners serving our customers in Aberdeen with pride and passion.
“I know having talked to many of our customers over my time here how dearly loved our shop is and how disappointing news of the proposed closure will be. I would like to thank them for all their support and loyalty.”
Home delivery will still be available to customers in Aberdeen, while they can also collect their purchases from seven Co-op click and collect points.
All affected employees will be supported throughout the consultation process and beyond.
If redundancies are confirmed, those who cannot remain with the Partnership will have access to a dedicated Retraining Fund, which will contribute up to £3,000 towards a recognised qualification or course for up to two years for any employee with two years’ service or more.
They will all have the option of a three-month support programme to help with CV writing and interview skills.
Difficult news for people of Aberdeen
John Lewis will also provide a £1m community investment fund to support local projects and to be shared among the eight local areas where we propose to close shops.
Sharon White, chairwoman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “We appreciate this is incredibly difficult news for our partners and the people of Aberdeen, who we have proudly served since 1989.
“We would like to thank all our customers in Aberdeen for their loyalty and our Partners for their outstanding work over the years.
“We have put together a package of carefully considered support to help our Partners in Aberdeen if the proposal to close goes ahead.”
Aberdeen Central MP Kirsty Blackman called for a meeting with John Lewis to discuss the closure, describing it as a “shoddy decision.”
She said: “Completely gutted by this announcement. Will be seeking more information as a matter of urgency.
“I know that the local management have fought hard and that the store was actually doing really well compared to other stores. This is a shoddy decision.
“This is a huge employer in the city centre. The impact on George Street and the Bon Accord Centre will likely be devastating.
“I am seeking a meeting with John Lewis. I will be asking them to reverse this decision.”
Arghhhh!! Completely gutted by this announcement. Will be seeking more information as a matter of urgency. https://t.co/I0SrT0rOla
— Kirsty Blackman (@KirstySNP) March 24, 2021