Jul 23, 2020
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John Lewis ex and current bosses at odds over Birmingham store closure

Jul 23, 2020

John Lewis’s plan to close its Birmingham department store has pitted its current chairman Sharon White against former boss Andy Street, who oversaw the location’s opening and is now the city's mayor.

John Lewis's Birmingham store closure decision is in the spotlight - Photo: Sandra Halliday

The company has insisted that its closure announcement is a real plan, rather than just a strategy to negotiate a lower rent.

The Birmingham store, which employs 399 people, opened only in 2015 but hasn’t been a success, despite the company already paying very low rent on it. It’s part of the Grand Central development and helped boost Andy Street’s profile and popularity in the area ahead of the 2017 election that saw him becoming Birmingham’s metro mayor.

Street said on Twitter that he believes the closure decision “risks being a dreadful mistake”.

A newspaper story said that a John Lewis staff member had asked Sharon White whether the closure announcement was a rent reduction tactic but she replied that the company has “been in constant dialogue with Hammerson for some time now,” The Standard reported. She added: “Closing a store is an absolute last resort and we could not see a way whereby the Partnership could affordably turn [it] round. This is a really tough message to hear and in no way reflects the dedication and hard work of Partners.”

White, who hasn’t shrunk from taking difficult decisions in her short time in charge, has also not held back from reversing some decisions taken by the previous management team. 

She now plans to meet Conservative mayor Street this week, but the company hasn’t commented on whether a reversal of the closure decision could be part of the talks. 

So why is such a new store in a premium development slated for closure? Other reports said that the store, which cost £35 million to build, is in the wrong location. It’s sited in the redeveloped New Street railway station and hasn’t generated enough business to make money, despite its rent being very close to zero. 

The store sees a lot of passers-by, but those people are usually in a hurry to catch a train or get to their workplace rather than to go shopping. Many railway station-adjacent stores tend to be much smaller ‘pop-in, pop-out’ shops rather than full-size department stores.

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