// John Lewis Partnership chair Sharon White to meet with West Midlands mayor Andy Street
// Meeting will be about the closure of John Lewis Birmingham, which opened when Street was John Lewis MD
// Street previously criticised the decision to close the store down, and White insisted it was not a rent tactic
A former John Lewis managing director and the recently-appointed chair of parent company John Lewis Partnership are slated to meet to discuss the closure of the retailer’s Birmingham store.
The news comes after the partnership’s chair, Sharon White, confirmed earlier this month that John Lewis Birmingham is one of the department store chain’s eight sites that will not reopen as part of its lockdown exit strategy.
The store, which cost £35 million to build and is located within the Hammerson-owned Birmingham Grand Central complex, opened to much fanfare in 2015 when Andy Street was the department store’s managing director.
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Street, who resigned in 2016, is now the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, and it’s thought that the opening of the local John Lewis helped him garner some political capital in ahead of its 2017 mayoral campaign.
John Lewis Birmingham employs 399 people, and they are among the 1300 staff at risk of losing their jobs as part of the wider plans to shut down eight stores.
When White – who succeeded Sir Charlie Mayfield in February this year – revealed that the store was set for permanent closure, Street tweeted that it was “dreadful mistake”.
The proposed closure of Birmingham’s John Lewis store risks being a dreadful mistake. My reaction to this morning’s deeply disappointing news: pic.twitter.com/JWLhPHBafw
— Andy Street (@andy4wm) July 9, 2020
White has since insisted that the closure of the Birmingham store was not a rent negotiation tactic, and is preparing to meet with Street, according to the Evening Standard.
An internal staff note seen by the Evening Standard reportedly showed a John Lewis staff member asking White whether the Birmingham closure announcement was a rent reduction tactic.
There is also speculation that it was done to convince Hammerson to allow John Lewis to move to its main shopping centre precinct nearby, the Bullring, since customers visiting Grand Central are mostly commuters who don’t have time to browse through the full-size department store.
According to the Evening Standard, White insisted that the planned closure was a real plan rather than just a strategy to negotiate a lower rent, and that the John Lewis Partnership had “been in constant dialogue with Hammerson for some time now”.
“Closing a store is an absolute last resort and we could not see a way whereby the Partnership could affordably turn [it] round,” White said.
“This is a really tough message to hear and in no way reflects the dedication and hard work of Partners.”
White’s meeting with Street is reportedly slated for this week, although there is no indication whether a reversal of the Birmingham store closure could be part of the talks.