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Options being explored for the future of Debenhams' Eastgate site

By Calum MacLeod

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Eastgate Centre manager Jackie Cuddy in Debenhams in happier times.
Eastgate Centre manager Jackie Cuddy in Debenhams in happier times.

The loss of the Inverness branch of Debenhams has been described as "a real blow" to the city, after administrators confirmed all its 118 remaining department stores are to close permanently.

Online retailer Boohoo has bought the brand in a £55 million deal, intending to reposition 242-year old Debenhams as an online only outlet.

Administrators FRP Advisory announced yesterday that when conditions permit, Debenhams' tores will reopen to continue their stock liquidation sale, but when this is completed, will then be close permanently with the loss of some 10,000 jobs.

The Inverness branch of Debenhams opened in 2003 as the anchor store of the second phase of the Eastgate Shopping Centre.

Eastgate owners Savills said options were being considered for the future of the three-floor unit.

A spokesperson for Eastgate commented: "Obviously it is very sad to see another long established department store leaving city centres across the country. Debenhams’ future everywhere has been uncertain for a long while and whilst Inverness was a profitable store there are to be no exceptions this time as the brand goes on line.

"There is no denying it is a big space to fill but the floor plate does mean it could be split in Eastgate.

"A lot of work has been going on by the owners and their agents in the background for a while now to look at options for the space and once these have all been considered and explored further we will have a clearer picture of the way forward.

"Once safe to do so and when permitted by the authorities, it will be more important than ever for people to support bricks and mortar retail if they wish to avoid their city becoming a 'ghost town' and the loss of yet further jobs."

Inverness Business Improvement District manager Mike Smith said: "It is very disappointing.

"Obviously Debenhams is a very big driver of footfall in the city centre. The decision does not reflect the success or otherwise of the business locally, but reflects the national position of the company and it is frustrating that nothing can be done locally to effect that."

Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said his first thoughts were with the staff losing their jobs in a difficult trading time for retail.

"It's a real blow for the city and for the Eastgate Centre because it was a major retail space," he said.

However, he added: "It gives us an opportunity to look at how the space could be used in other ways which would tie in to how we start to start to define our city centre."

Debenhams went into administration last April and began its liquidation process in December.

John Colley, Associate Dean of Warwick Business School and an expert on mergers and acquisitions, said: “The Covid pandemic has accelerated trends that have been developing for years. Debenhams is a prime example. It has struggled to offer a convincing rationale to customers for some time, other than perpetual sales and price reductions.

“At times the impression has been that directors were more concerned with financial engineering and control than creating a successful business. Of course the trend to online has not helped and Debenhams have suffered with a mixed bag of stores.

“With ongoing uncertainty regarding when the high street might eventually reopen, few will be interested in taking stores and employees, whatever the retail business."

He also warned that even the move to an online retail model would not necessarily ensure Debenhams' survival.

“There is no guarantee that Debenhams be a successful online brand as its customer value remains uncertain, other than the low price point," he said.

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