The empty carcasses of department stores are an SOS to architects

Martyn Evans index

Traditional retail landlords will need the profession’s creativity as they face down an apocalypse, says Martyn Evans

Walking out of the front door of my flat in Exeter I can look right towards a soon-to-close House of Fraser with nasty Closing Down graffiti painted on the windows. In the other direction the view is of the enormous Debenhams that anchors the city’s Princesshay Shopping Centre. If this Debenhams joins the House of Fraser and ends up on its company’s store closure list then almost overnight nearly a quarter of a million square feet of retail space right in the heart of the city centre will be empty. How will that impact on the remaining retail occupiers and what will become of those two huge buildings, built to be big department stores at a time when their closure was something that could not even have been imagined?

The way we shop is in trouble generally. This week retail shares took a dive. Shares in Asos, the defining online success that has driven the story about the tectonic shift in consumer behaviour, dropped by nearly 40%. Marks & Spencer, down 4.5%. H&M, down 8.5%. Retail consultancy Springboard released figures showing that the number of people visiting shops in November was the lowest since 2008 – a 3.2% year-on-year drop and long-troubled Laura Ashley announced this week that it would close 40 of its UK stores.

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