John Lewis, Boots and Burger King closures put 7,000 jobs under threat

John Lewis will also close shops at Heathrow airport and St Pancras station and four At Home outlets in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth.

Chairman Dame Sharon White said closing the stores, which were already in trouble before the lockdown, were necessary to help secure the Partnership’s future.

However, the decision to shutter the Birmingham store, which only opened five years ago as part of the New Street Station redevelopment, came under attack from Andy Street, Conservative mayor of the West Midlands and former managing director of John Lewis. 

He said the move was “incredibly disappointing” and risked being a “dreadful mistake”, adding: “I still believe the store can not only be a great success, but also provide a brilliant retail offer for the city and the wider region.” 

More than 4,000 Boots staff – about 7pc of its workforce – stand to lose their jobs with the closure of 48 Opticians stores that were shut during lockdown.

Sales and profits for the Walgreens-owned chain were also hit by plunging footfall and the closure of its lucrative beauty and fragrance counters even though most Boots stores stayed open.

Boss Sebastian James said the proposals were “decisive actions to accelerate our transformation plan … and ensure profitable long-term growth”.

Retail consultant Richard Hyman said that the department store and chemist chains “will be shutting lots more stores” and expressed surprise that more closures had not been announced.

“The can has been kicked down the road but I think we are nearing the end of the road and a lot of painful issues are going to have to be addressed,” he said.

The rise of online shopping to account for nearly a third of non-food sales brought about by lockdown was likely to continue, he argued. However, that change is yet to be balanced out by a corresponding reduction in the amount of retail floor space. 

As a result an explosion of empty units on the high street was inevitable given that Britain was  heading into the worst recession in living memory, Mr Hyman added.  

About 370 of Burger King’s 530 UK stores have reopened following the lifting of lockdown but chief executive Alasdair Murdoch told the BBC that up to a tenth could be closed permanently, putting as many as 1,600 jobs at risk. 

Julie Palmer, restructuring expert at Begbies Traynor, said that if retailers such as John Lewis and Boots want to survive and thrive “a sticking plaster will not suffice – they must restructure and rebuild”.

At least 40 retailers have collapsed this year, affecting more than 2,600 stores and close to 60,000 workers, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said coronavirus had accelerated many of the trends that were already underway in the sector. 

“Nonetheless, the pandemic has posed a huge challenge for the viability of many shops threatening their survival following months of greatly reduced turnover as result of store closures. Whilst the reopening of shops and other services is vital to recovery, footfall and in store sales remain below normal levels,” she said.

“Furthermore, months of rent has built up on shops forced to close and now represent a ticking timebomb for many retailers. Unless Government steps in to support retailers and landlords over rent costs as well as remains open to further action to boost consumer demand, we will see many more store closures and subsequent job losses.”

Clare Bailey, of the Retail Champion consultancy, sounded a note of optimism, suggesting that some consumers would continue to favour independent retailers at the expense of chains because of their superior levels of service.

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