Does Peterborough face a new battle to save its John Lewis store?

John Lewis staff in Peterborough face an uncertain time after fears were voiced the retailer is planning more store closures.

By Paul Grinnell
Monday, 22nd February 2021, 7:37 am
Gary Roundtree, head of branch at John Lewis Peterborough. EMN-190521-125215009
Gary Roundtree, head of branch at John Lewis Peterborough. EMN-190521-125215009

The retailing giant, which employs 390 staff at its Queensgate store, is thought to be considering permanently closing up to eight of its 42 stores.

According to national reports, the department chain will announce its decision early next month around the time it releases its annual results.

The Queensgate store, which sprawls across four floors and underwent a £21 million refurbishment in 2019, was temporarily closed as a non-essential retailer at the start of the third lockdown.

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The new uncertainty is likely to mean a near repeat of last year’s drama when staff faced an anxious few weeks at the end of the first lockdown in July before being told their store would re-open.

The Queensgate store was one of the last John Lewis branches to be reopened in a phased resumption of business that coincided with the piecemeal announcement of eight store closures.

For weeks it was not certain if the Peterborough store would survive.

Its plight prompted Peterborough MP Paul Bristow to write to John Lewis chairman Dame Sharon White urging her not to abandon the Peterborough store.

He told her: “Although I understand why John Lewis & Partners is seeking to reduce floorspace nationally to accommodate post-virus trading conditions, this closure would make no sense.

“The John Lewis store is the anchor of Queensgate shopping centre, at the heart of Peterborough’s city centre; a role that you acknowledged through your £21 million upgrade, which was only recently completed.”

The spectre of yet more store closures is a sign of the continuing tough battle being fought by the retailer as the Covid pandemic quickens consumers rush to online shopping.

Dame Sharon has previously said that is likely that by the end of the Covid-19 crisis up to 70 per cent of spending in John Lewis stores will be online.

She said the business was battling to cope with customers growing preference for online shopping and that it had too much store space with expensive running costs for the post-Covid trading environment.

In a sign of the challenging times, the retailer revealed last September it would end the annual bonus that has been paid to its partners for 67 years.

If the Peterborough store does close it will leave a mighty hole in the Queensgate shopping centre retail offering as well as being a huge unemployment blow for Peterborough.

It is estimated that up to 500 jobs were lost in Peterborough with the collapse of retailer Debenhams, which operated a huge warehouse at Kingston Park.

The rate of increase in the number of Universal Credit claimants in Peterborough has outpaced the national average for months with new figures expected tomorrow (Tuesday) likely to show yet another upwards surge.