For three decades, John Lewis has been the cornerstone of the shopping experience in Aberdeen.
It put the city on the map, attracting other major retailers to Aberdeen as well as shoppers from out with the area.
For many north-east shoppers, it was the main reason to visit the city centre and the ripple effects of this were shared by other retailers.
Big names like Debenhams, BHS, Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins have already left the city in recent years but John Lewis’s departure is different and feels a lot more ominous.
While all the previous store closures were chipping away at foundations of the city centre, are we going to look at this as the moment when our high street slipped away?
That’s why our politicians, business groups, customers, communities and Press and Journal and Evening Express must join together to make John Lewis bosses reconsider.
Was there any discussion with the city council or the Bon Accord Centre ahead of the announcement? Was any attempt made to make John Lewis reconsider? Can anything be done financially to make Aberdeen’s store more viable?
We must explain to them that the repercussions of closing the store can’t just be measured in bricks and mortar.
The John Lewis announcement also puts into stark focus the changes and challenges facing the retail sector.
It’s no surprise that the internet has forever altered consumer habits, but coronavirus pandemic has rocket-fuelled that change.
The combination of this change and the closure of stores means the discussion around the future of our city centre must be accelerated. The full repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic are not yet clear, however, tinkering around the edges or small changes are not needed, we need a clear vision of what Aberdeen city centre will look like.
‘People’s voices need to be heard’
Planning decisions from previous councils, stretching back decades, have been called into question about why our city centre is designed the way it is. All eyes will now be on the current administration to see what vision they put forward for the years and decades ahead.
With homeworking now looking like it could become the norm rather than the exception, people will have less reason to go into the city centre so radical ideas will be needed to address the problems that will bring.
That vision shouldn’t just be on the shoulders of the administration, it should also be discussed and formulated with the help of opposition politicians, business people and the community at large.
For now, people’s voices need to be heard. It’s not too late to save John Lewis or our city centre.