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83% of UK Department Stores Closed During Pandemic

Since the bankruptcy of the BHS chain five years ago, the UK has lost 83 percent of its big department shops.

The picture depicts the magnitude of the change on the High Street as a result of the Covid epidemic, which hastened changes in purchasing patterns.

According to the statistics gathered by commercial property research firm CoStar Group, more than two-thirds of these stores are still vacant.

There are 237 large stores that have yet to be taken over by a new company.

“The data clearly illustrates the retail sector’s pace of change in recent years, which the pandemic has further worsened,” said Mark Stansfield, CoStar Group’s head of analytics.

From 2016 until the present, CoStar monitored the UK’s major retailers, from BHS and Beales to Debenhams and House of Fraser.

They had 467 shops between them five years ago. Only 79 people are left now.

CoStar Group also looked into what happened to the 388 businesses that had shut down.

Despite the fact that 237 of them are now vacant, 52 have either concrete plans in place or have received early planning permission for a change of use or repurposing. The study was completed in July.

Mr Stansfield told news outlets that he believes the rate of change would quicken in the near future.

“We’re seeing more and more forward-thinking real estate owners get ahead of the problem by reconfiguring important assets in our town centers to offer a focal point for regeneration,” he added.

“In the next months, I believe we’ll hear about a lot more ideas. With the closing of these stores, new chances arise.”

No Solution in Sight

Department shops have long been a staple of British retail districts. Many are in purpose-built retail malls, while others are housed in old structures.

One of the major difficulties for landlords, as well as the town centers that house such buildings, is figuring out what to do with all of this empty space.

BHS is a fantastic example of why there is no easy solution to the problem. Five years after the company went out of business, a fifth of its former locations have yet to find new tenants.

The former BHS shop on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, one of the chain’s largest, was visited by the press outlets in 2016. The owners had new plans for the property, and one of the most important was to convert it into a mixed-use structure.

Its six levels, which were formerly infested with asbestos, have been gradually renovated. Premier Inn has converted the original staff locker facilities and part of the structure into hotel rooms.

They’re also putting the finishing touches on a cutting-edge office at the very top, and the basement will eventually become a bowling alley. There will be retail someday, but it will be far less than previously.

“Turning these huge size rooms into new uses costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time,” says Frank Hinds of CDA, the project’s architect.

“In terms of development, we were able to do this in a pretty short period of time.”

The biggest roadblocks to repurposing, according to Mr Hinds, are typically financial. To justify the large investment, investors must be able to generate a profit. This BHS is fortunate in that it is located on a world-class street.

“Viability is determined by the place and people’s desire to remain in that location,” he says.

It was an opportunity too good to pass up for Premier Inn, the hotelier involved. “Buildings like these with wonderful views across to the castle don’t come around very frequently,” says Valerie Graham, regional operations director.

“It’s great to see so many people using the area. And there is a demand for it. We’re also creating jobs.”

In the last several years, Edinburgh has lost four of its major department shops, but thankfully, all of them are being redeveloped.

The former House of Fraser shop on the opposite end of Princes Street, for example, is about to reopen as the Johnnie Walker Whisky Experience.

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