// New buyer found for Derby’s Bennetts department store after French Sole deal falls through
// French Sole had acquired the 285-year-old retailer out of administration in April
// A new owner has since been unveiled as Paul Hurst, a local businessman
Bennetts, the Derby retailer regarded as the world’s oldest department store, has been saved again after a successful last-ditch rescue attempt by a local businessman.
Administrators at Bridgewood Financial Solutions have confirmed the sale after taking back control of the 285-year-old department store in August.
Bennetts had been operated by French Sole owner London Sole since April, when it was first bought out of administration.
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The heritage department store fell into the hands of administrators just four months after London Sole failed to meet a number of payments.
The new owner of Bennetts is now Paul Hurst, a Derby businessman who owns The Old Bell Hotel – a grade II-listed building constructed in 1650 that is considered one of the most prestigious coaching inns outside London.
However, Hurst said it may not be possible to keep the store in its current location in Iron Gate, where it has been operating since 1734, due to the significant investment it needs to repair and renovate it.
It’s understood he is planning a new retail proposition for Bennetts, including a new online store, that will retain the brand and its heritage yet adapting it so it can thrive in the modern retail climate.
As a result, Bennetts is carrying out stock clearance sale before closing down for the short-term.
Regional news media outlets suggest Hurst was looking for a new location for the department store.
“We have worked tirelessly to look at all the options, including reconfiguring the building in Iron Gate, to keep Bennetts open in its original home,” Hurst said.
“However, there is at least £300,000 of work that needs to be done immediately and I am sure more major repairs are likely to be uncovered during work on such an old building.
“We will continue to look at the options for a physical store – remaining in the Cathedral Quarter – although this will not be a short-term solution and could take some time to resolve.”
Joint administrator Paul Mallatratt said: “Following the concerning turn of events in August we are pleased to have found an alternative solution for Bennetts, and especially one led by a person evidently committed to Derby’s Cathedral Quarter.
“We will be working closely with Paul Hurst and his team in order to ensure the smooth transition of Bennetts to its new owners by the end of October.”
Bennetts first called in administrators in early February after being hit by weakening consumer confidence, online competition and growing costs.
Bridgewood’s administrators at the time said the department store’s loyal customer base had not been enough to keep it going during a “very challenging” period on the UK high street.
By March, they said they had received “significant” levels of interest from potential buyers.
Fashion retailer also Young Ideas launched an online fundraising campaign on GoFundMe that featured a detailed plan for prospective investors to save the historic retailer – but this was suspended well before the £450,000 target was reached as GoFundMe is not regulated for investments – only donations.
Nonetheless, by April Bridgewood confirmed that a deal has been agreed with a buyer – which was eventually revealed as London Sole – to acquire Bennetts’ Derby branch for an undisclosed sum, and saving the jobs of 22 staff members.
However, Bennetts’ Ashbourne store was not included in that deal, prompting it to shut down on April 13 and resulting in 17 job losses.