House of Fraser, which bought Jenners in 2005, issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying the store would cease trading on May 3, with the loss of 200 jobs. It said it had not been able to negotiate satisfactory terms for a continuation of its lease on the iconic building in Princes Street.
Hours later, a spokesman for Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns the building, said Frasers had decided to end its occupation of the premises, but added: “This will see the end of the 16 year association between House of Fraser and this building, but not of the 180 years of Jenners department store. We are in talks with retailer operators and are planning a programme of works to ensure that, when safe and able to do so, Jenners will reopen.
"Our primary goal is to see the department store returned it to its former glory; Jenners of Edinburgh is an institution and, despite the changing face of retail, it is our aspiration that Jenners will continue to be a retail store for as long as we are its stewards.”
Clarifying the position a little later, the spokesman confirmed Frasers owned the commercial rights to the “Jenners” trading name. But he added: “However, as long as we are its stewards, this building will remain a department store. Our aspiration is to restore the building to its former glory. The Jenners building will always have a department store.”
Mr Povlsen had been working on a redevelopment of the building as a hotel with cafes, rooftop restaurant and shops. The spokesman said the project was on hold due to the current economic climate, but he insisted plans were centred around a refurbished department store.
He added: "The building totals almost 200,000 square feet, and we have looked at ways to reorganize the building to meet the changing requirements of department store occupiers – for example a hotel, but only to complement the store. We are in advanced talks with retail operators and following a period of necessary works, the department store will reopen.”
The confusion over Jenners came as another major store in Princes Street was dealt a final blow. Online fashion retailer Boohoo has bought the Debenhams brand and website for £55 million, but the chain’s 118 remaining shops will close and its 12,000 staff will be made redundant.
Debenhams was later officially wound up by a judge in an online hearing in the Insolvency and Companies Court. He described the retailer as a "rudderless ship" drifting in an "ocean of insolvency".
Plans had already been unveiled last month for the Debenhams store in Princes Street to be transformed into a city-centre "hub" featuring a hotel, shops, restaurants and a rooftop bar open to the public. The £50 million development would also include hospitality, leisure and a flexible event space.
Jenners first opened as Kennington and Jenner in a converted townhouse on the corner of Princes Street and South St David Street in May 1838. It expended to become the biggest retail establishment in Scotland. The current store was built after a fire in 1892 saw the original store burned to the ground.
Its permanent closure would mark the end of a shopping era. Over the years the store has become a much-loved Edinburgh institution and has been dubbed the Harrods of the North.
The Evening News revealed in November 2019 that Jenners was to leave the Princes Street building with Mr Povlsen – who bought the property for a reported £50m in 2017 – planning to redevelop it as a hotel along with cafes, rooftop restaurant and bar and luxury shops.
But yesterday’s closure announcement came sooner than expected. In the statement, a spokesperson for Fraser Group plc said: “Despite the global pandemic, numerous lockdowns and the turbulence caused for British retail, the landlord hasn’t been able to work mutually on a fair agreement, therefore, resulting in the loss of 200 jobs and a vacant site for the foreseeable future with no immediate plans."
There had been speculation that Jenners could move to a new home in the redeveloped St James Quarter but the switch was never confirmed. At one stage sources suggested it would occupy a 19,000 sq ft unit on Level 4 of the shopping galleria, but the unit was later taken by Lane7 for a boutique bowling alley and gaming centre.
After the closure announcement, Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey said it was “terrible news for Edinburgh”. He said: “Jenners is an iconic institution in the capital and a lynchpin of our retail offer in the city centre. The retail sector has been hit extremely hard during this pandemic and this is yet another blow. We’ll make a determined effort over the coming weeks and months to see how we can help those who are at risk of losing their jobs from this closure.”
Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson tweeted: “This the latest but I fear not the last news story of job losses and retailers failing in 2021.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the Capital’s central business improvement district, said: “Everyone is going to be sad to lose Jenners. It has been the iconic store in the city for as long as anyone can remember. It’s exceptionally sad to see it go, but it is just a reflection of the way the retail landscape is changing. The old-fashioned department store, as was, is now under real threat everywhere in the world, not just in Edinburgh. The positive for us here, though, is there are people very keen to redevelop and invest in the city.”