Fears House of Fraser could shut up shop in Belfast

There are fears House of Fraser could close its Belfast store at Victoria Square as part of a company restructuring plan. Picture by Seamus Loughran.
Gareth McKeown

THERE are fears Belfast's landmark House of Fraser store could close after the owner of Hamleys confirmed it is to take majority ownership of the struggling department store chain.

C.banner, the Chinese retailer behind Hamleys, said yesterday it will buy a 51 per cent stake in House of Fraser from its parent Nanjing Cenbest, but the deal is dependent on store closures. The company currently employs employs over 6,000 House of Fraser employees and 11,500 concession staff.

The 59-strong chain will put forward a restructuring plan known as a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which will require the approval of landlords and bondholders.

Frank Slevin, chairman of House of Fraser, said C.banner's acquisition was "a step to securing House of Fraser's long-term future".

"C.banner's investment is a vote of confidence in our prospects," he said.

"We know that if we are to deliver a sustainable, long-term business then we need to make difficult decisions about our under-performing legacy stores."

"These measures are essential to ensure that House of Fraser remains an iconic department store group for many years to come," he added.

House of Fraser has been the anchor tenant at Victoria Square since the centre first opened in 2008 and it is understood that part of the initial attraction for the iconic department store was a reduced rates and rental package.

The prospect of House of Fraser retaining its Belfast presence is not helped by a number of prominent retailers already pulling out of the centre in recent months.

Mobile phone networks Vodafone and O2 shut their Victoria Square stores at the beginning of the year and were soon followed by Jeans brands Levi's and Pepe, while fast-food giant McDonald's closed its doors back in February.

The downturn is not confined to Victoria Square though, as the collapse of Toys R Us in the UK led to closure of its four Northern Ireland stores, including its CastleCourt outlet, where it was an anchor tenant. Clouds also hang over the future of fellow anchor tenant Debenhams, with the company reporting falling profits this year and in February announcing plans to cut 320 store management jobs across the UK.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts stressed his hope the Belfast House of Fraser store will remain open.

“It is very concerning to hear that House of Fraser is planning to close a number of stores," he said.

"Given the huge importance of the Belfast store to both Victoria Square and the city centre economy as a whole, as a major footfall driver, I hope that it will continue to remain open. These are challenging times for the retail sector, given that in the last few months we have seen Carpetright, Maplin and Toys R Us all closing stores."


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