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Highland shopping centre flagship store threatened by coronavirus closure

By Calum MacLeod

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EASTGATE shopping centre manager Jackie Cuddy is remaining optimistic about the future of the mall's flagship store, despite reports department store chain Debenhams is set to file for administration.

Ms Cuddy said the news had not come as a surprise – Debemhams had already been facing well publicised financial challenges before it closed all its stores last month in accordance with the government call for non-essential businesses to close to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

However, she added: "I do know our store is a profitable store, We are optimistic that even if Debenhams does go into administration, it could still find a buyer."

Although she had no direct contact with Debenhams on the issue, and was expecting none until there was an official announcement about an administration application, she pointed out that Debenhams was continuing to trade online, placing it in a better position than some retailers who hjad also been forced to close.

Debenhams is set to file for administration for the second time in the space of a year.

However, the business, which has a history that dates back more than two centuries, called the process a "light touch" administration to protect it from legal action from creditors while its 142 department stores remain closed as a result of the coronavirus lockdown .

Eastgate manager Jackie Cuddy in Debenhams in happier times.
Eastgate manager Jackie Cuddy in Debenhams in happier times.

Debenhams chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste said the step would help protect the business, its employees, and other important stakeholders, and would allow Debenhams to resume trading from its stores when government restrictions are lifted.

However, although he said that the business was striving to project jobs and reopen as many stores as possible, he did not say how many shops would reopen after the lockdown.

Debenhams has already announced plans to shut 28 of its stores, having previously shut 22 stores in the last year.

Andy Barr co-founder of online retailer www.Alertr.co.uk, said that in spite of its huge presence on the high street, but it still felt inevitable Debenhams would be one of the retailers who got hit hard by dwindling interest from consumers.

"Department stores have struggled to keep up with cheaper, online alternatives for years now and the current climate could well be the final nail in the coffin," Mr Barr added.

"It is a hugely testing time for the high street; even prior to the coronavirus pandemic the high-street was in a state of disarray, with a new retailer seemingly going into admission each week but surviving this unprecedented event will be a struggle for even the biggest retailers. Every business needs to be willing to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer and they need to do so quickly. That being said, it could well be too late for the department store giant. Although, they are still actively trading online, it does seem a matter of when, and not if, we see the end of Debenhams.”

If the Inverness store did close, Ms Cuddy added there were a number of options the centre could look at.

"We could try and attract another flagship operator or we could divide it into units. That might not necessarily be retail," she said.

"It could be something like a gym. It all depends where the market is."

Only two units in Eastgate, Boots and the city centre branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, along with the neighbouring Marks & Spencer foodhall remain open during the current lockdown.

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