The fortunes of House of Fraser, one of the UK’s best loved department stores, has been in the balance for a number of years.
Founded in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1849, the company grew steadily during the early 20th century becoming one of the UK’s most recognisable brands.
But it had been struggling to find its way for a number of years, retail insiders said that its demise was partly down to confusion over its target market and its inability to move with the times in the fast-moving world of e-retailers.
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In a change of the guard for big name retail, it is the online players that have quickly become dominant with Boohoo’s purchase of Debenhams and Asos swooping in on Philip Green’s Arcadia brands of Topshop and Miss Selfridge.
House of Fraser was the first to fall – it collapsed into administration in August 2018 and was quickly snapped up by Sports Direct, which was rebranded as Frasers Group in December 2019.
At the time, boss Mike Ashley said he wanted to make House of Fraser the “the Harrods of the high street”.
But he too admitted that the outlook for the High Street was more challenging than he first anticipated.
And with even more casualties in 2020, what will fill these huge voids on the High Street?
A Government consultation proposing a new Permitted Development Right (PDR) – to enable more commercial, business and service premises on our high streets to be converted into residential without planning permission – ended in January.
The proposal has been positioned as supporting new housing delivery, and part of the solution to the challenges facing UK town centres and high streets.
But the British Property Federation believes the policy will only exacerbate the decline of the high streets, far outweighing any positive contribution to new housing supply.
Ian Fletcher, Director of Real Estate Policy, British Property Federation, said new residential development will play a vital role in town centre recovery but warned against quick delivery of new homes in a piecemeal approach.
He said: “An holistic approach to a high street’s future will ensure new homes are planned for, to ensure the right balance is achieved between residential and the other offers – whether that be shops, gyms, restaurants, nurseries, soft play for kids and sports halls – so that every business and new home support one another, to create coherent and thriving neighbourhoods.”
What’s happening next to House of Fraser stores:
The Altrincham House of Fraser store, known locally as Rackhams, closed at the end of August last year.
Around 50 jobs were affected by the move, which came in the same year as the town centre’s Debenhams also shut up shop.
New uses are now being explored for the site, which could soon be transformed into flats along with office space and retail units.
Plans were put forward in 2019 by the building’s owner to convert the existing 60,000sq ft store into a mixed-use development.
House of Fraser’s Wirral store based in Birkenhead town centre was bought by the council after it closed in March last year.
It was announced last month that Wirral Council had purchased the prominent building for £2m as part of plans to regenerate the area.
The building will now be incorporated into the council’s vision to create a more accessible central business district in Birkenhead, with modern office buildings set within communal green space.
The purchase, the council said, means it will not remain empty in the long-term, and not left open to third-party development.
In January, it opened as a symptom-free Covid testing centre.
House of Fraser occupies one of Birmingham’s most prominent retail buildings in Corporation Street, overlooking the city’s cathedral and a stone’s throw from the main New Street station.
It is still trading as a high-end department store but last summer welcomed another of Mike Ashley’s brands, cycle retailer Evans, which has taken over space on the ground floor.
Just over a year ago, city planning chiefs gave the green light for landlord Legal & General to carry out a massive regeneration of the building to create new offices, a roof terrace overlooking the cathedral, hotel and space for retailers and leisure uses.
Nothing has been announced yet as to whether House of Fraser will have an ongoing presence in Birmingham, either in its current home or elsewhere in the city.
The House of Fraser store in Cardiff is still operating, when shops are allowed to reopen in Wales, from the Grade II-Listed Howells building in the city centre.
However the building is on the verge of being bought by a developer and completely renovated.
Business Live revealed in November 2019 that the building required £25m of work to make it safe, forcing the building to be put on the market.
At present, House of Fraser is the only tenant of the 270,000 sq ft building.
It is not known if the new owners will keep House of Fraser as a tenant once it takes over. The new owners are yet to be identified but it is understood the site will split into a mix of retail, office, leisure and hospitality.
House of Fraser was founded in Scotland, becoming ‘ a humble Drapery shop in Victorian Glasgow to internationally inspirational department store’ in 150 years.
There were two in Edinburgh – a not so grand one down the west end of Princess Street which is about to become the Johnnie Walker Experience and set to open this summer.
The eight-storey site in the former Frasers building on Princes Street will feature rooftop bars, private dining areas as well as hosting tours, tasting experiences, and live performances.
The project is part of a £185m investment in whisky tourism by drinks giant Diageo.
The grand old Jenner’s branded building down the east end of the same high street, only last month finally announced closure.
Frasers Group failed to reach an agreement with building owners Anders Polvsen to continue the lease on the building. Anders Polvsen is the main shareholder in Asos.com, which has bought Arcadia brand Topshop, and owns large swathes of the Highlands where he is undertaking a rewilding project.
The House of Fraser department store is expected to cease trading on May 3. The shop has been a landmark on Princes Street for the last 183 years, previously trading as an independent shop until it was acquired by House of Fraser in 2005.
Work is underway to create a boutique hotel at the former House of Fraser store for one of the world’s leading companies – InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
The High Street store closed in November 2019 – since then wealth management firm Prydis, has had control of the building and in September confirmed it had struck a franchise deal with IHG for its boutique brand Hotel Indigo.
IHG operates the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, among many others, and already has the Holiday Inn Express in Exeter city centre.
Prydis said the deal emphasises the robustness of the hotel market, and will capitalise on the staycation market trend post-Covid and the positive growth potential for the South West region.
The £30m redevelopment scheme was given planning permissions in 2019 to convert the department store building into a luxury hotel with rooftop bar and terraces and ground floor upmarket shops on the High Street.
House of Fraser enjoyed years of strong trading on both banks of the Humber, with prominent stores in both Hull and Grimsby.
First to close was the city store in Hull in August 2019. It was acquired by local developers, has taken back the original Hammonds of Hull name and is mid-transformation.
An artisan food hall and more retail is the plan for the first two floors with office and living space on the third and fourth. City telecoms contact centre specialist ResQ has already committed to it to serve an extended Vodafone contract.
Grimsby’s House of Fraser was given a stay of execution when the closure plan was overturned in a brief U-turn under Mike Ashley, but the landlord called time on a period of ‘free trading’ granted to the retail magnate.
A wind-down was prematurely ended by the first lockdown.
The 64,000 sq ft store has been taken on by emerging concession operation 15-17. Plans to open have been hit by the ongoing coronavirus measures, with a date still awaited.
When Sports Direct mogul Mike Ashley stepped in to rescue House of Fraser in 2018 it meant the Plymouth store was saved from imminent closure.
Soon after, Plymouth City Council confirmed House of Fraser, landlord British Land and the council had struck a 12-month rent deal to make it more “cost effective” for the retailer to remain in situ.
That deal is understood to have been extended but only until 2020.
Dingles restaurant on the top floor was closed when its parent company entered administration owing more than £1.5million in March last year.
Its parent firm, Sheffield-based catering chain Massarella Gelaterie Ltd, blamed the coronavirus crisis for the downturn. Staff reported on social media that equipment from the fifth-floor Dingles restaurant has been stripped out prior to the department store’s reopening after the first lockdown on June 16.
Massarella Gelaterie ran restaurants in 32 House of Fraser stores, many under the Cafe Zest branding.
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