Five years after being closed, BHS stores are still empty

white and red train in train station

Five years ago, when BHS collapsed, the UK lost more than 80 percent of its department store presence. This gap is still not filled with 237 vacant sites.

Data compiled by CoStar Group, a commercial property information company, shows chains including BSH, Debenhams, House of Fraser and Beales had 467 stores between them five years ago. Only 79 of these stores are still in existence today.

white and red train in train station

The analysis of the state of the UK high street is dismal. While the pandemic may have contributed to the increase in closures, the problem for most chains started long before the coronavirus.

Often the sites operated by department stores are costly real estate, which many businesses cannot afford. Nearby retailers also have to deal with the loss of footflow from vacant sites. Lucy Stainton from the LDC’s commercial director, stated that the Guardian has also seen a decline in demand for larger units.

“As time passes, units can become increasingly challenging to let, as they often require significant capital expenditure in order to rejuvenate the space or redevelop it for another use entirely,” she said. “120 ex-Debenhams shops have been added to the market since December 2020. This means that there are more large retail units available than retailers need.”

three person pointing the silver laptop computer

The changing shape of the high street without the anchor of a department store has been felt by many communities. There is hope, however. Next has taken over the Debenhams space for its new beauty brand. The BBC stated that 52 of the 237 BHS units are either in the process of being repurposed or have already received planning approval.

The shift to digital consolidates “Footfall at May 2021 was lower than in 2019, and although it is rising, online sales are still proving to be remarkably strong in light of the opening of non-essential retailers.” Deloitte predicts that online sales will continue to rise at market rates, driven both by consumer demand and retailer investments to increase capacity and capability.