The former John Lewis department store in Aberdeen is set to go on the market.
It is five months since John Lewis staff said an emotional farewell to the store as it shut its doors for the last time.
Savills has been instructed to seek a buyer by the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which closed the store last August.
Its demise came despite a well-supported campaign – backed by The Press and Journal and Evening Express – to save it.
It is thought the site may be marketed with a price tag of around £5 million.
The former shop is now home to a Covid-19 vaccination centre which will continue to operate throughout the sale process.
The property is to be offered to prospective buyers as a “unique” retail or development opportunity.
Aberdeen John Lewis site has ‘wealth of potential’
Stuart Moncur, head of national retail, Savills, said the “substantial and highly prominent building” had a “wealth of potential”.
He added: “Its scale and significant profile could be considered suitable for a range of alternative uses, subject to the usual planning consents.”
Savills declined to say how much the property may fetch.
One commercial property expert, who did not wish to be named, reckoned it could go on the market with an asking price of £5m-plus.
“But it won’t sell for anything close to that,” he added.
Explaining why, he said: “It is one of those properties that, at present, is a liability because of the costs associated with owning it.
“There is no income and the empty rates bill is around £600,000 per annum.
“I cannot see this letting in the foreseeable future so the only possible value would be for knocking it down and building flats.”
Another expert in the local market said: “If the building can be reused it might have a value up to £5m, depending on the condition.
“However, as a site it would probably be nearer £2m. It’s hard to see what the existing building could be used for.”
Totalling about 200,000sq ft over four floors, the former department store at 88 George Street dates back to 1966.
The Co-Operative Society’s Norco building was built that year as a “modernist showpiece” after the original Victorian Co-op was demolished. When JLP acquired the property in the late 1980s it was described as a “golden opportunity”.
It became the chain’s northernmost branch and for long spells, it was also by far the most successful thanks to the strength of the local economy.
A bittersweet farewell to Aberdeen
JLP’s decision early last year to close the north-east’s last remaining department store resulted in the loss of 265 jobs.
On their last day, staff marked the bittersweet occasion by reminiscing about their time with the company.
Lynda McDonnell helped open the shop in 1989. After leaving for the last time 32 years later, she said: “I helped put the shop together, and I helped to take it apart.”
27-year-old Ellen Will had just started management training when the branch was axed.
She said: “I had seen myself working here for a long time, it’s the best employer I’ve ever worked for.
“I’d heard the whispers it might close, but it really did hit me when we were all sat down and told.”
The retail group said the performance of its branch in Aberdeen – together with sites that were earmarked for closure elsewhere in the UK – could not be “substantially improved”, given consumers’ growing appetite for online shopping.
Public outraged by closure
It was a major blow for Aberdeen and followed hot-on-the-heels of other shops closing in the city, including Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Topshop and the Disney store.
Petitions calling for the John Lewis branch to remain open gathered tens of thousands of signatures in a campaign supported by the P&J and Evening Express.
Comments on the petition from Chris Cusack described the store as “an important fixture in the city centre, and an essential part of its retail economy”.
Dawn Allen also commented, saying: “Aberdeenshire needs John Lewis, not just the city itself.”
Bridge of Don resident Michael Owen, 60, was among those who reacted to the news.
He said: “This will be devastating for Aberdeen.
“John Lewis was the mainstay for the shopping centre and it makes me wonder if any other store could occupy that space.
“The city centre is going to be a ghost town with more people shopping online. Closures like this were always on the cards but this confirms it – what reasons do you have to go into the city centre now?”