John Lewis decision reinforces uncertainty surrounding commercial property

Danni Hewson
11 March 2021

“We’ve been asking the question “what’s the future for our hight streets” for over a decade.  Ever since Woolworths closed its doors in 2015 there have been rumblings of concern and calls for change,” comments Danni Hewson, financial analyst at AJ Bell.

“The decision by John Lewis not to reopen some of its stores after lockdown ends isn’t surprising.  Six years ago, when I went to the long awaited opening of a John Lewis store in Leeds, partners were falling over themselves to tell me how this was a store for the future.  It was about experience; with restaurants, treatment rooms and advice on a good night’s sleep.  It was also an integral part of their dot com offer, with the backrooms operating as streamlined warehouses.  

“There’s no indication that Leeds will be one of the stores closed, indeed that seems unlikely.  But it goes to show how long the business has been wrestling with that question about the future.

“Property investors and developers have also been probing solutions.  How can those great big boxes that used to house stalwarts such as Debenhams and BHS be converted to desirable, affordable and yet profitable spaces.  Is the answer a mixed economy of accommodation, office space, leisure and retail?  Has the enforced brush with homeworking forever altered our relationship with town and city centres?

“I imagine the answer to that is as complicated and varied as it ever was.  There is no cookie cutter blue print that will guarantee success but the pandemic will force local councils and developers to take a long hard look at what was working at the beginning of 2020 and whether that will still be relevant at the end of 2021.”

Danni Hewson
Financial Analyst

Danni spent more than 19 years at the BBC, presenting and reporting on business news across a variety of programmes – including BBC Breakfast, BBC News Channel, BBC Look North and latterly Radio 5 Live’s flagship business programme ‘Wake up to Money’. She is now responsible for producing analysis and commentary across a broad range of subjects at AJ Bell, from financial markets, to economics and personal finance.

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