Debenhams clears Westfield store as owners fear mass store closure

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From the outside, the Debenhams The department store at Westfield Shopping Center in West London resembles all other “non-essential” stores during this crisis, closed and in hibernation.

But inside, much of the stock has been removed from the 140,000 square foot space. As it stands, this Debenhams will not reopen when the lock is released.

Debenhams on the verge of insolvency and is asking its landlords to accept another set of rent reductions.

Westfield refused and Debenhams responded by emptying his own clothes and clothes racks and moving the goods to his other locations.

In a statement, Westfield suggested that it had already lined up replacement tenants.

“It is a sad day to see Debenhams testify for the administration. Our centers are constantly evolving and we have alternative plans, including a combination of retail and other uses, for this high-end anchor space … which we look forward to implementing once life returns to normal. “

It’s a sign of how hopeless things are, that Debenhams seems willing to return the keys to such a privileged place.

The Shepherd’s Bush Westfield Mall is the second busiest in Europe – 31 million people visited it last year.

Debenhams has been a benchmark tenant since the center opened in 2008.

On Monday, when Debenhams announced plans to apply for administration, the company’s managing director, Stefaan Vansteenkiste, said the plan was to “reopen as many Debenhams stores for trade as we can” when restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus are removed.

Debenhams has 142 stores and 28 are slated to close in the next 12 months as part of a previous business restructuring, but the owners I spoke with now believe that many more will close. .

They question the motivation of the owners of Debenhams, a consortium of lenders led by the American hedge fund Silver Point Capital.

“What is the end of the game?” One owner told me. “It’s starting to look like [the owners] I want to close everything. We are asked to take another hit. This is an aggressive reduction in rents and there is no service charge agreement. “

They added, “Debenhams behaves dreadfully. It’s like throwing their toys out of the stroller. The threat is “accept these conditions or we will go to the administration and you will get nothing”. “

Another owner said, “It doesn’t look like a turnaround plan, it looks like a liquidation. [of the business].

“Debenhams has a few hundred million pounds of stock. It looks like they’re trying to extract as much as they can and then it’ll be “bye-bye”. “

Debenhams wants landlords to agree to pay rent based on sales.

Owners were offered rates between 2% and 5% of sales, depending on the popularity of their department store sites.

The owners are not in a solid negotiating position.

If they accept the terms of Debenhams’ offers, other retailers will demand similar large discounts.

If they reject them, they will likely end up holding an empty department store and a bill for professional rates, because the “vacations” announced by the government do not extend to the owners.

Debenhams declined to comment.

The company said on Monday that these are unprecedented circumstances and we [are filing for administration] to protect our business, our employees and other important stakeholders, so that we can resume trade in our stores when government restrictions are lifted.

“We are working with a group of very supportive homeowners and lenders and anticipate that additional funds will be available to help us weather the current crisis.”

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