Future of John Lewis’ Exeter store undecided following first-ever annual loss

Eric Partridge

Along with the majority of high street retailers, large and small, even the UK’s largest employee-owned business, the John Lewis Partnership – which also runs Waitrose supermarkets – recorded a loss before tax of £517m for the year ended 31st January, 2021, compared to a profit before tax of £146m in the previous year. This is the first loss ever recorded in the retail giant’s trading history.

In the company’s recently declared financial statement, the firm explains that this was the result of substantial exceptional costs of £648m – particularly the write down in value of John Lewis shops owing to the pronounced shift to online – as well as restructuring and redundancy costs from store closures and changes within their head office. John Lewis shops are now held on the Partnership’s balance sheet at almost half the value they were before the year ending January 2021 and the previous year’s write downs.

The Partnership is now targeting savings of £300m a year by 2022. Chairman Sharon White acknowledged the role that
the Partnership must play in the future regeneration of the high street saying: “All our John Lewis stores need to be exciting places to shop, more reflective of the tastes and interests of local customers.

‘This will require investment and we are working closely with landlords and local authorities. We are keen to play our part in the revitalisation of the high street.

‘Hard as it is, there is no getting away from the fact that some areas can no longer profitably sustain a John Lewis store. Regrettably, we do not expect to reopen all our John Lewis shops at the end of lockdown, which will also have implications for our supply chain. We are currently in discussions with landlords and final decisions are expected by the end of March.”

Recent reports suggested that of its 42 UK-wide stores, another eight stores were earmarked to be shut, on top of the eight announced last July.

Whether or not their flagship store in Sidwell Street, Exeter is one of those earmarked for closure is still a matter for conjecture with the company refusing to be drawn on speculation at the time
The Moorlander went to press.

“Closing a store is one of the hardest decisions we can make as a Partnership,” Ms White continued. “We are acutely sensitive to the impact on our partners, customers and communities, particularly at a time when retail and our high streets are undergoing major structural change.

‘We will do everything we can to lessen the impact and will continue to provide community funds to support local areas.

A national effort of business, local and national government, and community will be needed to address the challenges facing the high street, communities and jobless youngsters from the sheer speed at which COVID-19 is altering the structure of the economy,” she urged.

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