Crazy golf on the first floor? UK department stores face radical remake | Retail business


Gyms, mini-golf, student apartments, hotels or even a whiskey-based tourist attraction: the future of many department store locations will probably not involve shopping. More than 200 of them are now empty or closing next year, and real estate experts say the change will result in a reinvention of malls and city centers on a scale not seen since the post-war years.

Last week’s decision to end Debenhams will likely result in the closure of 124 stores – just over a million square meters of retail space – in England and Wales. That’s the equivalent of 148 Premier League football pitches in search of a new goal, according to real estate consultancy Altus Group.

Before the latest closings, Debenhams had already closed more than 40 stores in the past two years. Meanwhile, at least 11 House of Fraser sites have closed since August 2018, with more expected to close next year.

John Lewis also recently closed eight outlets: half of them were department stores and are now empty. This, in turn, followed the collapse of the Beales chain, which left its 22 stores vacant. Only one has since reopened.

“It’s apocalyptic. We’ll see the biggest change in the urban grain [the pattern of streets] since World War II, ”said Mark Robinson, chair of the government-backed High Streets Task Force.

“Department stores have supported the footfall that drives people through the doors. We’re going to have to develop a whole new way of looking at the purpose of cities and centers, ”said Robinson.

There will be no one-size-fits-all solution. What works in Hull will not work in High Wycombe. “Putting a chi-chi food market like Altrincham’s in every department store isn’t the answer,” said Robinson. “Public consultation is essential. You must seek the answer in the places and take the local communities with you. “

A look at what happened to BHS’s 164-person chain, which collapsed in 2016, highlights the scale of the challenge. Four years after its demise, just over a quarter of old BHS stores remain empty, according to an analysis by the Local Data Company.

Less than half continue to trade as department stores and the remaining 30% have been redeveloped – either by demolishing or completely rebuilding the interior, dividing them into smaller stores or merging them into neighboring buildings.

Primark took over around five stores, B&M and Sports Direct took three each, while others now house TK Maxx, Metro Bank or H&M.

In 2020, there will likely be few resellers for department stores. Chains such as Marks & Spencer and Next are also closing stores, while Primark has largely completed its UK estate.

Some department stores will switch to leisure use, such as movie theaters. The former Oxford Street BHS, for example, has been split into a Swingers golf center, a food hall and the UK’s first outlet for Reserved, a Polish fashion brand.

In Reading, Hammerson was granted planning permission to transform a House of Fraser outlet into a food court, bowling alley, and crazy golf course. The Edinburgh Fraser House on Princes Street is being developed by beverage company Diageo into a tourist attraction promoting Johnnie Walker whiskey.

The Beatties store in Wolverhampton.
The Beatties store in Wolverhampton. Photographie: John Dutton / Alamy

Several other House of Fraser outlets, including Birmingham, Lincoln and Exeter, are set to become hotels alongside shops and offices, as is Debenhams in Manchester.

Westfield Shopping Center in West London has permission to turn two-thirds of a Fraser house into coworking space, while at least one department store in Bristol can become student accommodation.

Elsewhere, local authorities can play a more central role in reinventing the space for civic amenities such as health centers, preschools or libraries, if the money can be found.

In Folkestone, an option for the old Debenhams site, which has been bought out by the community, is a mix of retirement homes and a health center alongside leisure facilities like a cinema.

Another part of the puzzle will be the houses. While they were once citadels of shopping, out-of-city malls are now looking to reinvent themselves into new cities, with homes alongside shops and other services.

At Lakeside in Thurrock, Essex, there are plans to create more than 1,000 homes. Some authorities see an opportunity to use similar ideas to bring people back to city centers hit hard by the pandemic.

David Fox, co-director of retail at real estate consultancy Colliers, believes owners of three-quarters of Debenhams’ current locations will already have a plan for the future that could involve a mix of small stores and other uses. But some older stores may be more difficult to reinvent. The cost of asbestos stripping is prohibitive and resists renovations or even demolition.

For some, the answer might even be a return to nature. In Stockton-on-Tees, local authorities are set to turn a dying 1970s shopping center into a park, and a similar plan is now being launched in Nottingham.

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