Aberdeen leaders will launch a taskforce in a last ditch effort to convince John Lewis bosses to rethink the closure of the much-loved city department store.
High-level talks have taken place between the company’s management and local politicians who want to put “everything on the table” to preserve the retail space and save 265 jobs.
It comes as the John Lewis Partnership confirmed that no final decision on the store’s fate has yet been made, and as a petition to save it was backed by more than 15,000 people.
‘If we do nothing, we already know the outcome’
Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick warned that “time is of the essence” if the city is to “come together as a community” and persuade decision-makers at John Lewis to change their minds.
Mr Borthwick said: “We have a choice.
“Do we accept the decision is a done deal, that the future of retail is online and pursue other long term uses for our city centre in the hope that the eco-system can still operate without one of its key components, or do we collectively come together as a community to engage with the decision-makers at John Lewis, to convince them to work with us to build a business model that works – I say, the latter.
“What do we collectively have in our lockers that could be used to do this?
“Time is of the essence. Can we be successful in working with John Lewis to convince them to change their minds?
“Maybe not, but if we do nothing, we already know the outcome.”
- Letter from the editor: Time to make your voice heard and save John Lewis and our city centre too
- Special: Your thoughts on plans to close Aberdeen’s John Lewis
- Illicit Still closure rubs ‘salt in wound’ of John Lewis’s planned departure
- Creators of city’s first box market say it is more than important than ever
John Lewis willing to listen
The John Lewis Partnership has said it will listen to proposals put forward by city leaders and politicians in an “appropriate consultation process”.
A spokeswoman added it was “too early” to discuss details on any plans but said the firm was “actively having conversations with Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, stakeholders and local politicians”.
SNP candidate for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, also took part in talks with John Lewis management and called for the new taskforce to work to “ensure all opportunities” have been assessed.
The proposals are understood to include a new retail space closer to the city centre and the potential for a Waitrose supermarket to be added to the George Street space to increase footfall.
Mr Stewart said: “The Scottish Government stand ready to assist in terms of redundancies, but as a city, we need to come together and put in place a credible, and politically neutral, taskforce to put everything on the table and ensure all opportunities have been assessed.”
Fight to save Aberdeen’s high street is crucial
New figures show Aberdeen city centre footfall has fallen by more than 62% during the pandemic, while 70% of sales at John Lewis have shifted online.
Adrian Watson, the chief executive of business development group Aberdeen Inspired, said city leaders were “still fighting” to keep the high street giant.
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden added: “Everyone needs do everything they can to get John Lewis to overturn this decision – I think it’s quite short sighted.
“On Tuesday we had the huge announcement from the UK Government on the £16 billion investment into the energy sector and the £150 million that we’ve committed to the city centre and beach regeneration.
“I would have liked to see John Lewis open the store again and see if some of these things would have an impact on the store.
“You would like to think that our local economy will bounce back because of that investment.
“But it’s clear from what John Lewis said that they are only really interested in the online market in the north-east, and that is regrettable and something we really need to keep on at them to see if they’ll change their mind.”