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Debenhams ends 243-year history on the high street as final stores close tomorrow

Lauretta Roberts
14 May 2021

Debenhams is to shut the doors of its physical retail stores for the final time in its 243-year history tomorrow.

The historic department store chain will close its remaining 28 stores across the UK on Saturday after the company collapsed at the end of last year and entered a liquidation process.

Around 100 of its remaining stores were reopened after lockdown to clear remaining stock and have been closing permanently in recent days and weeks. Some 21 of its sites across the UK for the final time on Thursday.

The retailer has has a tumultuous few years, falling into administration twice in two years, and suffered slumping sales in as shoppers moved away from traditional department store models.

However, the enforced closure of sites during the pandemic was the final straw, resulting in the company falling into administration within weeks of the virus fully hitting the UK last spring.

Talks with potential buyers began as a possible exit from administration with JD Sports coming close to agreeing a deal last autumn, however the collapse of Debenhams' largest concessionaire Arcadia, put paid to anyone buying the chain as a going concern and liquidation proceedings began.

Its brand and online business only was snapped up for £55m by online fashion group Boohoo, which has already relaunched its website selling a range of its own brands. Boohoo  intends to create an online department store using the site that will see it venture in the homeware and beauty markets.

At its peak Debenhams employed more than 20,000 staff and most of them lost their jobs as a result of the liquidation.

The final stores to close on 15 May are:

Basildon
Basingstoke
Belfast
Birmingham Bullring
Brighton
Bristol
Bromley
Cardiff
Chelmsford
Cheshire Oaks
Colchester
Coventry
Exeter
Hanley
Lakeside
Leeds White Rose
Liverpool
Manchester
Manchester Trafford
Meadowhall
Merry Hill
Newcastle
Newry
Plymouth
Romford
Rushmere
Sheffield
Swansea

A brief history of Debenhams:

Debenhams' story began in 1778, when William Clark began trading his drapers store at 44 Wigmore Street in London. William Debenham invested in the firm in 1813 and the business was rebranded as Clark & Debenham (the Debenham family exited the business in 1927).

Its first store outside of London was opened in 1818 in Cheltenham and the Debenhams Limited name was incorporated in 1905. The business grew through a series of mergers and acquisitions including the takeovers of Marshall & Snellgrove, Harvey Nichols, the Drapery Trust (which incorporated a number of historic stores such as Bobby & Co, Bon Marche and Swan & Edgar) and Browns of Chester, which was the only Debenhams store to retain its original name when Debenhams rebranded all of its stores in 1977.

In 1985 Debenhams became part of the Burton Group, along with Harvey Nichols, which was later sold to Dickson Poon.

The business has been floated on the London Stock Exchange three times during its 243-year history. It first floated in 1928, then in 1998 it was demerged from Burton and floated. It was taken private again in 2003 when it was acquired by a consortium of investors and returned to the Stock Market in 2006. It was delisted for the final time in 2019.

In 2014 Mike Ashley's Sports Direct International (now Frasers Group) began buying shares in Debenhams, amassing a near 30% stake, which was lost when the business collapsed into administration and was delisted in April 2019 and sold to an entity (Jersey Topco) owned by its investors. Ashley attempted many times to install himself at the head of the company and execute a takeover but was repeatedly rebuffed.

Ashley subsequently expressed an interest in buying the chain after its liquidation began but did not strike a deal, leaving its successful website and brand to fall into the hands of Boohoo, and its stores all forced to close.

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