"Like the ravens leaving the Tower of London": Sheffield reactions to John Lewis closure

John Lewis has officially announced that it will close its Sheffield store due to the ‘irreversible impact’ of the pandemic, putting 299 jobs at risk and causing ‘heartbreak’ for the city as it loses a much-loved institution.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 1:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 1:45 pm
Reaction as John Lewis in Sheffield City Centre is set to close. Picture: Chris Etchells

It has been announced today, Wednesday, March 24, that John Lewis will officially close the Sheffield city centre store despite Sheffield City Council buying out John Lewis’ leasehold interest for £3.4 million to sign a new 20-year contract.

The news comes after the company announced they were ‘not ruling out’ closing the store earlier this month.

Now, 299 jobs are at risk after John Lewis announced that the ‘pandemic has had an irreversible impact on retail’ and will close the iconic former Cole Brothers site, a place of many memories for Sheffielders old and young.

"I'm hoping we'll see a resurgence of small independent retailers in the coming couple of years to really push the city forward," says Joe Blanchard of Bear Tree Records in Orchard Square

The news follows the closure of Debenhams and the Arcadia Group stores, including Topshop, in the city centre, and is now being called the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the city centre city residents.

Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership said: “We appreciate this is incredibly difficult news for our Partners and the people of Sheffield.

"We are acutely aware of our long history in the City and are hugely grateful to all our customers in Sheffield for their loyalty, our Partners for their outstanding work over the years and Sheffield City Council for its continued support.

"While the shop was financially challenged prior to the pandemic, we were determined that with additional investment, we would be able to play a key role in the regeneration of the city centre.“However, the pandemic has had an irreversible impact on retail and we must make difficult decisions to ensure the Partnership is sustainable in the future.”

"This will be a hammer blow for Sheffield," says Louise Haigh MP for Heeley

Now, the people of Sheffield have had their say – including city centre business owners, and regular John Lewis shoppers.

Joe Blanchard, who runs independent record shop Bear Tree Records in the city centre, said: “Huge loss for the city centre which seems to lose a different shop every week when I wander about.

"Terrible news for all the staff. I'm hoping we'll see a resurgence of small independent retailers in the coming couple of years to really push the city forwards.”

Other independents have also shared their sadness at the news, with Debbie Moon from Division Street retailer MoonKo saying she was “gutted.”

“Blimey, that's like the ravens leaving the Tower of London,” said Sheffield resident Gary Jenkinson-Graham, whilst Lydia Monks said: “Just awful news for Sheffield. It feels like the final nail in the coffin for the city centre.”

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: "This will be a hammer blow for Sheffield and leave a gaping hole in our city centre.

"John Lewis is a huge draw, and the closure will have a knock-on effect for businesses across Sheffield.”

Mayor of Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis, said: “Losing John Lewis in Sheffield deals another blow to retail workers who are among those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. My heart goes out to the workers and their families whose livelihoods are at risk.

“The store has been a cornerstone of the city’s retail offer for more than a century. I am working with John Lewis and Sheffield City Council to determine what this means for those whose jobs are now on the line and what can be done to support them.

“In challenging times, the people of Sheffield rally around each other and I know we will bounce back despite the challenges COVID throws at us.”

“I’m determined to ensure Sheffield and South Yorkshire comes through this.”

John Lewis has said they will seek to find alternative roles in the Partnership for as many of the 299 staff as possible, but experts say this is another example of employees in retail suffering.

Kevin Mountford, co-founder of savings provider Raisin UK, said: “Not only has the store's target market not have access to a physical store, but the result in John Lewis stores shutting throughout the pandemic has also only caused this decision from John Lewis to be accelerated - and who suffers? It's employees.

“Consumer habits have changed, and what we are seeing is ultimately a move from physical shopping to an online one with a click of a button.”