Frasers mulls last-minute rescue of UK store chain Debenhams

LONDON (AP) — Frasers Group, the British department store chain run by billionaire Mike Ashley, says it is in negotiations about a potential rescue of Debenhams that could safeguard some of the 12,000 jobs at risk.

However, Frasers warned Monday that that unless talks can be concluded quickly, it may not be able to save the 242-year-old company, which is in the process of being wound down.

Last week, the administrators running Debenhams said they had no option but to start the process of closing the company for good after JD Sports decided not to make an offer. It came a day after Arcadia Group, the retail empire of Ashley’s rival Philip Green, went into administration, a type of bankruptcy protection.

“Whilst Frasers Group hopes that a rescue package can be put in place and jobs saved, time is short and the position is further complicated by the recent administration of the Arcadia Group, Debenhams’ biggest concession holder,” it said.

“There is no certainty that any transaction will take place, particularly if discussions cannot be concluded swiftly.”

Debenhams, like Arcadia, has clearly suffered from the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdowns over the past few months. However, it was suffering beforehand, as it struggled to respond to the increased competition from low-cost rivals like Primark, as well as from online disruptors such as ASOS and Boohoo.

Debenhams can trace its history back to 1778 when William Clark set up a store in London’s West End selling fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. In 1813 William Debenham invested in the firm, which became Clark & Debenham. By 1950, the renamed Debenhams was one of the largest department store groups in the U.K.

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