John Lewis chair set for battle with ex-MD over fate of Birmingham store
John Lewis chair Dame Sharon White is set for a stand-off with the department store's former managing director Andy Street, now West Midlands Mayor, over the future of its Birmingham store.
Street opened the store in Grand Central Station in 2015 as one of his last acts at the head of the chain before switching to a career in politics a year later. It is now on White's list of eight planned permanent store closures.
Despite paying close to nothing in rent, John Lewis has failed to turn a profit at the store, which cost £35m to build, with critics saying it is in the wrong place and dismissing it as a "vanity project". Travellers passing through the station do not have time to browse a large department store.
It is believed that there had been talks with landlord Hammerson to investigate the possibility of moving it to the main Bullring shopping centre next door, but these had come to nothing.
In a leaked letter to a member of staff, White denied the threat to close the store was a negotiating tactic saying: “Closing a store is an absolute last resort and we could not see a way whereby the partnership could affordably turn round any of the eight stores.”
Street, however, has said the closure of the store would be a "dreadful mistake" and White plans to meet him, along with the head of the Birmingham council, this week to discuss the matter.
Since lockdown in March it was speculated that some John Lewis stores would not re-open given the rapid consumer shift to online. White confirmed this earlier this month saying full size department stores in Birmingham and Watford would be closed, along with At Home stores in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, and travel sites in Heathrow Airport and St Pancras Station. All of the sites were classified as "financially challenged".