Stores battle to stay in business

T.J. Hughes store Terminus Road Eastbourne
T.J. Hughes store Terminus Road Eastbourne

THE town centre could have more empty shops as struggling high-street chains go into administration or slim-down their estates.

Eastbourne’s TJ Hughes department store, Thorntons, Jane Norman in Debenhams and Carpetright, Lottbridge Drove, are all struggling in the squeeze on consumer spending which has resulted in dire conditions for retailers across the country.

This week, department store TJ Hughes, a Liverpool-based chain which runs 57 stores, gave official notice it intends to appoint an administrator over the next 10 days.

TJ Hughes refused to comment or sayhow many are employed at the Eastbourne store. However, reports suggest around 4,000 jobs will be at risk nationwide.

January’s rise in VAT and the decline in the housing market is blamed for discouraging people from investing in home improvements and buying big-ticket items such as televisions.

Hailsham’s Focus, a home improvement firm which went in to administration, looked set to close last month before being saved by rival firm Wickes. Now TJ Hughes, which sells a range of homeware and electrical items, may fall victim.

However, Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd says he is optimistic about TJ Hughes’ future and hopeful it will be sold as a going concern.

He told the Herald, “It is important to remember that TJ Hughes in Eastbourne remains open while a buyer is found.I have spoken with the general manager John Wishman, a very experienced retailer, and he confirms our store is very much open for business.

“I have often shopped there and look forward to continuing to do so in to the future.”

But if TJ Hughes fails to pull through, a large empty department store may sit opposite the old Co-op building which has been vacant for several years.

Thorntons could go as the chain prepares to close up to 180 shops. A spokesperson for the national chocolate retailer refused to confirm whether the Eastbourne shop would shut. “Due to the sensitive nature of the closure plan, we cannot provide any detailed information at this stage on the location of any potential store closures.”

Jane Norman, a concession in Eastbourne’s Debenhams store, collapsed into administration this week after attempts to find a buyer ran out of time. The women’s fashion chain is now in the hands of a corporate restructuring firm. According to national press reports, Debenhams may buy the Jane Norman brand and stock.

Carpetright has announced a 70 per cent slump in profits and gone in to administratio. It will be reviewing its stores which are coming up for lease renewal over the next three years.

In a joint statement, Eastbourne Borough Council leader Cllr David Tutt and leader of the opposition Cllr David Elkin said, “We are disappointed to learn of possible closures, however all the retailers in question are still trading and we hope administrators will find buyers as soon as possible.

“The council is committed to improving the town centre and through our Town Centre Area Action Plan we are confident our goals and aspirations for Eastbourne can and will be met.”

The plan, before cabinet on July 13 for discussion, includes new shopping areas and an extended Arndale Centre.

n For more, see Herald Opinion – turn to page 6.