End of an Era as John Lewis in Southsea Set to Close this Summer

Knight & Lee Department Store Southsea
Knight & Lee Department Store Southsea

Last Monday there was shock and dismay as 127 partners working at Knight & Lee, the John Lewis department store in Palmerston Road in Southsea, on the peninsular of Portsmouth in Hampshire, found out their workplace is due to close imminently.

Dino Rocos, Partner & Operations Director said: “We have not taken this decision lightly and we considered every implication for our Partners, customers and the community. However, a unique combination of factors, including the significant investment required and the opportunity to sell the property freehold, makes this the right decision for the financial sustainability of our business.”

John Lewis & Partners today announced in an official statement that it “will close Knight & Lee & Partners in Southsea, which at 35,000 sq ft is the smallest full line shop in its estate, in July 2019.”

The decision to close Knight & Lee has been driven by a number of factors specific to this site. The physical condition, size, age and shape of the property restricts the customer offer. It would require significant investment to modernise Knight & Lee and at the end of last year, a unique commercial opportunity presented itself to sell the freehold of the building and close Knight & Lee.”

John Lewis follows in the steps of the Laura Ashley shop which closed its Palmerston Road branch two years ago. This was at the same time Marks & Spencer announced their department store in Commercial Road was shutting for good.

Some partners in this ‘co-owned’ business will be offered positions at Waitrose nearby if there are any vacancies available. Customers will be able to use the ‘click and collect’ service to order online and pick up their John Lewis fashion and home purchases from the upmarket food store which is also part of the John Lewis partnership group.

The sales manager for the specially made glass cabinet jewellery counter at Knight & Lee who has worked in her department for 23 years said “It is the girls I will miss the most. We will all go out together in the evening for our ‘leaving do’ and we will definitely keep in touch.”

The curving 1940’s store in this historic seaside town has hardly changed in more than 25 years. It has always been known for great customer service and good quality products. Local people who bought their school uniforms there may well now be shopping for their grandchildren as this classic boutique has been a ‘go to’ destination for clothing, beauty and housewares for several generations.

A summer sale or ‘clearance’ as they call it in this unique company, will be held in July before the imposing commercial building is sold to developers. John Lewis recently made headlines after announcing that there is unlikely to be any partnership bonus this year which is extremely unusual for the prosperous chain.

The Wikepedia website explains the history of this treasured landmark and reported that “The Palmerston Road shop was founded by Jesse Knight and Herbert Soden Lee in 1887. It has been a John Lewis store since 1933.” It also tells of how the store was rebuilt after it was bombed in the Second World War. Naval Portsmouth was a military target and was badly hit and a thousand lives were lost and many Victorian buildings were destroyed.

The News, the local Portsmouth newspaper, quoted Tory leader Councillor Donna Jones as keen to back a private conversion into a mixed use type of development with retail shops on the ground floor. It remains to be seen what is approved by the Portsmouth planning department later this Spring.

Debenhams will be the only department store left in the once thriving town centre. Sales staff at this store on the opposite corner of the street said it was business as usual and there were no changes planned.

Multi channel retailing and Brexit uncertainty continues to impact on British high streets and even the major players in the industry are strategically tightening their belts at this time. UK citizens will need to vote with their feet to support their nearest retail communities in order for them to survive over the next few years and provide much needed jobs.

‘Knight & Lee could be converted into homes as John Lewis confirms sale to property developers’ Fiona Callingham, The News (Portsmouth) 23 Jan 2019 https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/our-region/portsmouth/knight-lee-could-be-converted-into-homes-as-john-lewis-confirms-sale-to-property-developers-1-8781145

Knight & Lee, Wikepedia 6 Feb 2019