Giant Wigan store’s future hangs in the balance

Debenhams in Wigan's Grand Arcade
Debenhams in Wigan's Grand Arcade

The future of Wigan’s biggest department store hangs in the balance after the company that owns it reported its biggest ever losses and announced plans to shut dozens of outlets.

Debenhams is the anchor tenant of the Grand Arcade, employing dozens of staff, occupying a huge space at the rear of the mall and is also the gateway to one of the town’s main car parks.

Employees are now on tenterhooks waiting to see if theirs is one of 50 stores in the national chain on which the axe will fall, whether they are one of a further 20 which are “under review” or whether they will be spared altogether.

News of the cuts came just hours after the arcade was celebrating the announced return of HMV after a five-year absence and has recently welcomed also a 3 store and Menkind.

But these are tough times in Wigan as in many other town centres. Another major tenant of the Grand Arcade, M&S, has indicated that it may pull out and open one of its food-only outlets at Robin Park instead; and gentlemen’s outfitter Greenwoods, in Market Place, has also put up signs saying it is closing down.

On the subject of Debenhams, Grand Arcade manager John Sanson, said: “These are tough times and we will just have to wait and see. I do believe that the Wigan store is profitable but you never know given the losses they have made and you don’t know the criteria.

“I would hope they were all right.”

Asked what would happen should the store close, Mr Sanson added: “I think we would have to re-appraise that large space and find alternative usage for it. It would have to change into something else but we are not preparing for that or looking at that.”

The group said the closures will take place over a three to five-year period and the announcement comes alongside a dire set of financial figures.

Debenhams’ £491.5m loss in the year to September 1 is the biggest in its history. It was stung by exceptional write-downs of £512.4m, primarily relating to store and lease provisions, IT costs and impairment charges. The loss compares with a £59m profit in 2017.

Boss Sergio Bucher said: “It has been a tough year for retail in 2018 and our performance reflects that. We are taking decisive steps to strengthen Debenhams in a market that remains volatile and challenging.”