Another indie department store to disappear as Eve & Ranshaw closes
Christmas trading updates for physical retailers may have been somewhat better than expected in the past couple of weeks, but there's no denying that physical retail remains under heavy pressure. And news on Friday that one of the oldest UK department stores is to close underlines the intense pressure in that particular part of the retail sector.
Eve & Ranshaw may not be a nationally or internationally known name, but it's a key retailer in the market town of Louth, Lincolnshire, where it has been trading since 1781.
It was founded only a few years after the forerunner of Debenhams first opened its doors, the latter being another business that suffered as the department stores sector reeled from multiple onslaughts.
This week, Eve & Ranshaw posted a closure notice saying: “It is with a heavy heart that we close after 240 years of service in Louth. In recent years we have faced some challenging times with changes in customer shopping habits, lockdown closures, rising business costs and the current cost of living crisis. Regrettably, it has now reached a point where the department store is no longer viable.”
The physical store will cease trading on 4 March, but the online shop will close before that on 30 January.
The store remains family-controlled with current owner Marcus Sandwith calling it a “really sad day” and telling the BBC that he had promised his father before he died in 2019, that he would give it his best shot at making the business work.
The company had appeared on Channel 4 show The Takeover four years earlier, as part of its attempt to develop a new strategy and connect with younger customers.
The business was founded by Adam Eve who was later joined by Thomas Ranshaw. It was acquired by the Sandwith family in 1977.
The big question becomes: what happens to the physical space now?
The store on Market Place in the town centre is a Grade II listed building and Sandwith said the family it wants to continue its guardianship of the building. He also said he would only consider leasing it to “community-minded” businesses. But it's unclear what that might result in.
The closure is yet another sign of the difficulty of running a department store business – large or small – in the current UK retail environment.
High-end department stores such as Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Liberty have been able to prosper in the wake of the luxury boom and sometimes even reinvent themselves with an even more upmarket approach. But the rest of the sector in Britain has battled multiple headwinds. These include the rise of online shopping, the pandemic, business rates, and the fundamental question of whether the department store model we’re used to is fit for the 21st century.
As well as the closure of Debenhams as a physical retailer, surviving chains such as John Lewis and House of Fraser have closed a significant number of branches. And smaller department store businesses have also struggled. Beale’s for instance went under, while Fenwick remains but is to close its New Bond Street branch.Indies are particularly vulnerable with a raft of them having closed in this century.
The key advantage department stores previously had – offering the middle classes multiple brands under one roof – have been eroded. Those brands are now easily available at the click of a button and specialist retailers such as M&S and Next have also increasingly been moving into the space formally dominated by department stores.
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