Christmas crisis as up to eight Sheffield shops face closure in Debenhams and Arcadia wipeout
At least eight shops in Sheffield - including two large department stores - could close with the loss of hundreds of jobs in a crisis at Arcadia and Debenhams.
On The Moor in Sheffield city centre, a Debenhams and a combined Dorothy Perkins and Burton - and a Burton and Dorothy Perkins at Crystal Peaks - face an uncertain future.
At Meadowhall four stores could go, including a large Debenhams, Topshop and Topman, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, and Miss Selfridge.
It comes after Arcadia Group, which runs 444 shops in the UK, collapsed into administration on Monday. That prompted administrators for Debenhams – which features Arcadia concessions – to announce the chain would be ‘wound down’.
The announcements will spoil Christmas for hundreds of families in South Yorkshire.
Amanda Phillips, centre manager for The Moor, said: “Debenhams has long been the focal point on The Moor and one of the main constants through the redevelopment, their disappearance from Sheffield and indeed the high street, is very sad, not to mention all those members of staff facing such an uncertain future in these difficult times.”
The crisis is likely to accelerate changes already underway in Sheffield and at Meadowhall.
Even before the pandemic, city centre retail was in decline and residential was on the rise. Experts had long claimed people want experiences, prompting the city council to unveil a raft of measures to make it more ‘liveable’, including road closures, parks and ‘parklets’ and multiple bike lanes.
Debenhams is one of the largest buildings on The Moor, but due to separate ownership, was not included in Aberdeen Standard Investment’s £120m revamp of the shopping area and has been shabby for years.
The top floor closed some time ago, reflecting the company’s struggles.
But the city is set to avoid the worst of the ’awful pain’ the loss could inflict on High Streets and shopping centres across the country, according to developer David Cross of Sky House Co and chairman of Coda Architects.
He said: “It’s been coming for years and we knew it. For Sheffield it’s an opportunity, not a threat. This is a chance to get rid of an ugly building at the top of The Moor and put something good in its place.
“The best thing to do with Debenhams now is flatten it and build a 20-storey tower with leisure or independent retailers on the ground floor and high end residential above.
"If you haven’t got retail you need something else to do in the city centre, such as go to a restaurant for lunch, do some shopping, have a drink and a day out.
“Sheffield city centre has not got the full scene yet. It’s got some, with the Heart of the City 2, Devonshire Green, The Moor is really nice, even Fargate, but it’s not joined up yet. We haven’t created the blend and a grown up place to live like you see in Barcelona and Madrid where you can walk everywhere.”
But despite the challenges Sheffield would weather the situation better than many - especially towns built around shopping centres where units are rapidly closing but have no other use.
He added: “Sheffield definitely dodged a bullet there. Some cities have no way to avoid the awful pain and the awful void of the loss of Arcadia and Debenhams.
“Sheffield has the chance to carry on building a beautiful, livable, city centre, with a unique ‘spirit of place’ not just ‘any town UK’.”
Mr Cross went on to say the city council had a huge part to play in revitalising the property market. It could attract better quality developments by waiving charges and fees.
“Reduce them in return for beautiful buildings and create a modern old town, rip up the rule book. The council has huge influence.”
Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business, said he was shocked at the likely loss of jobs which would be ‘devastating’ for employees and families.
He urged developers to talk to them about projects.
“They have to demonstrate why they want an exemption. It’s pointless us putting policies forward if they are going to be scrapped. But we do want to see the city move.”
Meanwhile the loss of big stores at Meadowhall would be huge, Mr Cross said. But the popular mega-mall, which is more than 90 per cent occupied, could probably find new tenants. And the co-owners could absorb the hit.
British Land is one of the country’s biggest and most successful property companies and the Norwegian government pension fund is renowned for its wealth.
He said: “Meadowhall in some ways is the centre of South Yorkshire. It’s a tourist attraction and one of the best retail environments in Europe.”
But this week’s events could accelerate plans to build a £150m extension focused on leisure activities. And it was yet early days in the tech revolution.
High Street retailers, saddled with higher costs have been unable to compete with online rivals who are not only more convenient, especially during lockdown, but cheaper, with many offering free delivery and returns.
Mr Cross added: “I think there’s a lot more change to come.”
Nationally, some 13,000 staff under the Arcadia umbrella face an anxious wait following the business collapsing into administration.
While 12,000 workers face losing their jobs at Debenhams stores around the country after rescue talks failed to save the struggling department chain.
Administrators at FRP Advisory said: ‘Given the current trading environment and the likely prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for a restructured operation is highly uncertain.
‘The administrators have therefore regretfully concluded that they should commence a wind-down of Debenhams UK, whilst continuing to seek offers for all or parts of the business.
‘Debenhams 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.’