St Neots Beales store at risk of collapse if buyer is not found

Beales Department Store, in St Neots. Picture: ARCHANT.

Beales Department Store, in St Neots. Picture: ARCHANT. - Credit: Archant

One of the countries oldest department stores has warned that it could collapse into administration, unless a buyer is found, leaving a store in St Neots at risk.

Beales, which started trading in 1881 in Bournemouth, has 22 stores nationally including one on St Neots High Street.

The retailer has said that one thousand jobs are now at risk if the company fails to find a buyer, but are yet to say which stores will be forced to close.

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

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

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 has said that he hopes to secure the long-term future of its shops, according to The Sunday Times.

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"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.

The retailer also has stores in Wisbech, Peterborough, Diss in Norfolk and Bedford.

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

In the year to March 2019, Beale posted a loss of £3.1m, up from £1.3m for the year earlier as costs increased and sales dipped.

It comes after UK retail sales fell for the first time in a quarter of a century last year.

Sales in November and December fell by 0.9%, according to industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

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