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Shutting up shop: high street names we’ll see no more

Joanna Partridge
·4-min read
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

A series of retail failures during the pandemic has changed the face of Britain’s high streets for good. Several well-established household names have disappeared from the nation’s town centres and shopping malls and will not be among those that are reopening with the rest of England’s non-essential retailers, personal care businesses and hospitality venues with outdoor tables on Monday.

Those to have closed permanently since the first lockdown in March 2020 now include:

Arcadia

Sir Philip Green was once dubbed king of the high street. But no more. His Arcadia group collapsed into administration last November, putting more than 13,000 jobs in peril and spelling the end of a retailing empire that included Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Burton.

Watch: Huge queues form outside Primark in Nottingham as shops reopen across England

Administrators successfully sold various brands to different buyers, but none of them was interested in retaining the Arcadia stores.

The online fashion retailer Asos bought Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and the activewear brand HIIT for £330m, but did not require any of the brands’ 70 branches.

Meanwhile, another online fashion retailer, Boohoo, paid £25m for the Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton brands, which previously had more than 200 branches.

Evans, Arcadia’s plus-size clothing brand, was sold to the Australian retailer City Chic Collective, and is now only available online.

Debenhams

Debenhams Oxford Street store boarded up,
Debenhams Oxford Street store boarded up,

The collapsed department store chain will briefly reopen, but only for a closing-down sale. Just under 100 Debenhams branches will be selling off remaining stock, with reductions of up to 70%, before they close their doors for good by 15 May. Several sites will never reopen, including the brand’s flagship Oxford Street store in central London, after the building’s lease ended in February.

The retailer, which started trading as a drapery and haberdasher from a shop near Oxford Street in the late 18th century, fell into administration for the second time in 2020. It still employed 12,000 people at the start of this year. Debenhams had a presence on British high streets for more than 200 years, and its closure will leave a hole at the heart of many town centres and shopping malls.

The Debenhams brand name will survive, but only on the internet. It was bought by online retailer Boohoo for £55m in January. Boohoo plans to relaunch Debenhams online by the end of May.

Oasis and Warehouse

An Oasis store just off Oxford Street
An Oasis store just off Oxford Street

Administrators’ failure to secure a rescue deal for fashion chains Oasis and Warehouse led to the loss of 1,800 jobs and the permanent closure of the two chains’ 92 standalone stores and 400 department stores concessions.

The brands were sold to the restructuring firm Hilco, owner of the Homebase DIY chain, in a deal that included their stock.

The two chains collapsed into administration in April 2020, during the first lockdown, when the enforced closure of non-essential shops proved too much for retailers already struggling with rising costs and the switch to online shopping.

Cath Kidston

The Cath Kidston shop in Windsor, Berkshire
The Cath Kidston shop in Windsor, Berkshire

The vintage-inspired brand announced just after the first lockdown started that it was permanently closing all of its 60 UK stores as part of a rescue deal with its Hong Kong-based owner, Baring Private Equity Asia. A total of 900 staff were made redundant as a result of the decision to quit the British high street, though the firm is continuing to trade online and through its 180 overseas stores, operated through a franchise business.

The retro fashion and homewares company had opened its first store in west London in 1993.

Thorntons

External shot of a Thorntons store.
External shot of a Thorntons store.

Chocolate retailer Thorntons became another established name to vanish from the high street, when it announced last month that it was closing all of its 61 stores, with the probable loss of 600 jobs.

The brand was founded in Sheffield by Joseph Thornton, who marked the year he began trading with the slogan “chocolate heaven since 1911”. The company’s confectionery products will continue to be sold in supermarkets and other retailers, and it will go on making chocolate for international markets from its factory in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Thorntons said it had been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, because two lockdowns had occurred at its peak sales times, including two consecutive Easters and Christmas 2020. It had also lost customers to its more fashionable rival Hotel Chocolat. 

Watch: How England will leave lockdown