Almost 90% of Debenhams stores are still empty a year on from its collapse

By guest author Georgia Wright from the Retail Gazette

  • UK high street data from LDC shows a slow revival of high streets driven by independent businesses moving into vacant sites
  • Clothing stores and charity retailers have been hardest hit while fast-food shops and grocery stores took advantage of cheaper rents to launch,

As reported by the Guardian, nearly 90% of former Debenhams stores are still empty, almost a year after the department store retailer closed its doors for the final time, signalling high streets are reviving at a slow pace.

The empty stores are among approximately 8,000 stores left empty last year, according to a report by the high street analysts Local Data Company (LDC), as Covid lockdowns accelerated the shift towards online and hammered city centres.

Although, that number was down from 11319 net closures in 2020, as fewer businesses fell into administration, while over 43000 new businesses opened their doors, an increase of more than 10 %.

According to the Guardian, fast-food shops, barbers, grocery stores, cafes and sweetness salons have been the fastest-growing sectors, as independent businesses took advantage of cheaper rents to launch.

There was also a significant bounce-back in the leisure industry, with a net 52 outlets closing compared with 2640 a year earlier, as restrictions on dining out eased and takeaway businesses continued to boom.

Clothing stores, banks, charity shops and pubs have been hit the hardest.

Lucy Stainton, the commercial director at LDC, stated that department stores were a particular problem, with only 12% of recently vacated sites now reoccupied, while just over a fifth of former BHS outlets remained empty five years after the department store collapsed as a result of the costs of fitting out and maintaining such large sites.

She said landlords and councils should be thinking beyond retail to fill the space as there was a “knock-on impact” on the attractiveness of a town or shopping centre when key stores remained empty.

Projects under way include the transformation of the former Debenhams in Bury St Edmunds’ Arc Shopping Centre which could be transformed into an Everyman cinema if plans are approved, as well as the former Debenhams store in Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre which is expected to be transformed into offices and a rooftop garden.