Historic department store Beales of Wisbech at risk of collapse

PUBLISHED: 09:59 13 January 2020

Beales department store in Church Terrace, Wisbech, could be set to close as the company could be set to go into administration unless a buyer is found. Picture: GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Beales department store in Church Terrace, Wisbech, could be set to close as the company could be set to go into administration unless a buyer is found. Picture: GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Archant

One of the oldest department store chains in Britain - which has a prime site in Church Terrace, Wisbech - could be set to go into administration unless a buyer is found.

Tough high street conditions are said to be taking their toll on the historic chain, Beales.

With stores also in Diss and Beccles - as well as owning the Palmers department stores in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, which became part of the Beales group in November 2018 - Beales could collapse if it fails to agree a sale in the coming days.

A month ago the retailer put itself on the market after issuing a stark warning that it faced "exceptionally challenging times".

On December 17 Beales appointed the advisory firm KPMG to help assess "strategic and financing options," which included a sale of the whole company or its subsidiaries in a bid to fund its moves towards a "sustainable business model" for the future.

Founded in Bournemouth in 1881, since then Beale and its subsidiary J E Beale plc has expanded to include 22 stores.

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But now it is fighting to save more than 1,000 jobs.

Having been around for almost 140 years the department store chain - with sites across the county - has been battling tough high street conditions.

Chief executive and owner Tony Brown hopes to secure the long-term future of its 22 shops, according to The Sunday Times.

"It has been the most challenging time for retail on record," he said.

"Christmas hasn't delivered what we thought it would achieve."

He believed the company could be "restructured for a profitable future" but he was unable to say which of its 22 stores were likely to survive.

Mr Brown had led a management buyout of the firm in 2018, and Beales is now negotiating with its landlords to try and agree rent reductions.

According to the BBC, it is also in talks with two potential buyers - believed to be a rival retailer and a venture capital investor.

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