‘Store closing’ signs go up in Palmers windows
- Credit: Archant
‘Store closing’ signs have gone up in a department store’s shop windows.
However, its joint administrators have stressed it's "business as usual" and that it could still be saved if a buyer is found.
It means Great Yarmouth's home-grown Palmers - considered by many as retail royalty - is at risk, ending a 183 year reign on the high street.
The store has stood proudly overlooking the town's market place since 1837, growing from a small draper's shop to a chain employing 400 staff with a turnover of £40m.
In November 2018 it looked to have grasped a lifeline when it was taken over by Beales, along with the Lowestoft Palmers branch.
For Yarmouth the closure bombshell comes less than a week after Debenhams bowed out of the town.
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And with townsfolk still reeling, the news could not come at a worse time giving retail a torrid start to 2020 just when it needed a boost.
A statement released by Beales's administrators KPMG said no stores would be closed immediately and there would be no instant job losses - the signs in Palmers's shop windows painting a bleak picture of its prospects.
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A spokesman said: "The Great Yarmouth store will continue to trade in administration, while the joint administrators continue to explore the possibility of a sale of the business.
"However, if a sale of the business ultimately proves unsuccessful, the store will close.
"We cannot comment at this moment in time around potential timing."
Carl Smith, Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader, said: "We are saddened and disappointed to hear this news.
"While we are aware of the challenges and changes facing retailers across the UK, we are contacting Beales to understand more about the specific situation relating to Palmers.
"Contrary to popular belief, the council neither sets the business rates nor the rents in the town centre.
"However, we do have a clear vision to transform the town centre as a cultural and economic hub, which includes the Market Place redevelopment announced last week.
"We will continue to work with partners to strengthen our town centre and seek investment opportunities through initiatives like the Future High Streets Fund."
Will Wright, partner at KPMG and joint administrator, said while the store was still trading gift vouchers, customer deposits and customer returns/refunds will be honoured.
"For over a hundred years, Beales has been a stalwart of the high street in market towns up and down the UK, but like countless similar retailers, has found trading in recent times to be incredibly tough.
"With the impact of high rents and rates exacerbated by disappointing trading over the Christmas period, and extensive discussions around additional investment proving unsuccessful, there were no other available options but to place the company into administration."
KPMG were initially engaged by the business in December 2019 to explore possible sale and refinancing options.
The Palmers' pedigree
In 1844 Garwood Palmer's younger brother Nathaniel joined the business and soon became a full partner. He died aged 38, leaving two sons, Edward Ernest and James Hurry to carry on the business.
By 1876 the family business was booming and Garwood Palmer was appointed a magistrate.
When he died in 1888 at the age of 73 Nathaniel's sons were left in charge changing the name to Palmer Bros.
After James Hurry Palmer died in 1908 his son Percival joined the business and worked his way up to become the manager.
Percy's son-in-law, Graham Sturrock, became a member of the team in 1947 and he took over as chairman of the board when Percy died in 1960.
By 1971 the company had grown dramatically and Mr Sturrock enlisted the expertise of his son Bruce who took over as managing director in 1983.
In 1993 Bruce took over as chairman and was joined by his sister Wendy Cole as the fashion director.
She had been a fashion buyer at Bloomingdales in New York.
Palmers entered Lowestoft in 2004 when it took over Chadds, which in itself had 100 years of history behind it.
In more recent years Palmers was forced to close its stores at Bury St Edmunds and Dereham.
He said: "The thing I am really keen to get across is that the company is not in any trouble at all, in fact far from it. We are in a fortunate position compared to some other retail companies," he said.
"We will continue on as we did before Beales approached us. I hope our staff understand the situation.
"It is not a disaster for us as it might have been in other circumstances and there is no threat of Palmers losing its presence in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth."