High Street giant closing its doors for first time in 156 years of trading

Retail group John Lewis will close all its stores on close of trading on Monday, March 23, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This is the first time the business will have closed its doors to trade since it was founded in 1864.

And fashion brand Jack Wills is closing several of its stores, including its Trafford Centre outlet in Greater Manchester.

John Lewis, which includes the Waitrose supermarket brand, announced on Saturday that it will temporarily close for business.

In a statement chairman Sharon White said: “The John Lewis Partnership has taken the difficult decision to temporarily close all of its 50 John Lewis shops at close of business on Monday 23 March as a result of the impact of coronavirus.

“The Partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis.

“On every occasion, thanks to our customers and Partners (staff), and the long-standing relationships with our suppliers and stakeholders, we have emerged stronger.”

However, the John Lewis website will continue to operate as normal, as will the Waitrose supermarket website.

Waitrose stores will remain open, with the exception of Waitrose food offers in department stores at Watford, Southampton and Bluewater.

The group statement explained: “The food halls within John Lewis Oxford Street and Waitrose shops which share premises with John Lewis space at Kingston, Ipswich, Stratford, Horsham, Basingstoke and Canary Wharf will remain open, along with all other Waitrose branches and Waitrose.com grocery deliveries.”

Ms White said partners who work in John Lewis stores being closed will be “taking on important roles” that will see them provide support to their colleagues, provide “critical services” at Waitrose shops and help customers “get what they need” through the John Lewis website.

She said: “Over 2,000 John Lewis Partners are already working in Waitrose shops to assist with the unprecedented demand for grocery and other essential goods and wherever possible, John Lewis Partners will be redeployed to provide additional support to Waitrose and johnlewis.com for our non-food online business.”

She added that the decision to close all of John Lewis’ stores was made “with a heavy heart”.

Meanwhile, Frasers Group, formerly Sports Direct, has announced that it will permanently shut down five Jack Wills stores with immediate effect due to “unprecedented uncertainty”.

The stores set for closure are located in the Manchester Trafford Centre, Dublin, Exeter, Cambridge, and Bath.

Frasers Group acquired Jack Wills for £12.8m in a pre-pack administration deal last August.

A spokesperson said the firm had been negotiating with landlords to keep the stores open. However, due to the “unprecedented uncertainty” in retail caused by the coronavirus pandemic, further closures were “inevitable”.

“The group has been working closely with landlords since acquiring Jack Wills to keep as many stores open as possible,” the spokesperson said.

“Now faced by unprecedented uncertainty in the retail environment, further closures are inevitable.”

Six Jack Wills sites closed in January after rent negotiations with landlords failed. Before that, 13 stores were shut around the time of the acquisition.

That leaves around 80 branches in the portfolio.