Great Britain

In another dark day for UK retailing, Debenhams set to close

In another dark day for the British retailing industry, Debenhams said Tuesday it will start liquidating its business after a potential buyer of the company pulled out, a move that looks like it will cost 12,000 workers their jobs.

The 242-year-old department store chain said administrators had decided to start winding down operations while continuing to seek offers “for all or parts of the business.”

JD Sports had been mulling an offer for Debenhams, which like others in the U.K. retailing sector has seen business collapse this year during the coronavirus pandemic. However, JD Sports is thought to have pulled out after Arcadia Group, the sprawling retail empire of billionaire Philip Green, went into a type of bankruptcy protection late Monday.

Arcadia, which owns well-known brands such as Burton and Topshop, is the biggest operator of concessions in Debenhams department stores.

Debenhams said it will continue to trade through its 124 U.K. stores and online to clear its current and contracted stocks.

“On conclusion of this process, if no alternative offers have been received, the U.K. operations will close,” the company said in statement.

Geoff Rowley of FRP Advisory, which is joint administrator for Debenhams, said “the economic landscape is extremely challenging and, coupled with the uncertainty facing the U.K. retail industry, a viable deal could not be reached.”

He said the decision to “move forward with a closure program” has been carefully assessed and, “while we remain hopeful that alternative proposals for the business may yet be received, we deeply regret that circumstances force us to commence this course of action.”

JD Sports was the last remaining bidder for Debenhams, which has been in administration since April. Debenhams has already axed 6,500 jobs due to heavy cost-cutting after entering administration for the second time in 12 months.

Arcadia tumbled into insolvency on Monday evening, casting a shadow over its own 13,000 workers and 444 stores.

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