A MAJOR body blow could be dealt to Hucknall town centre amid news that two of the High Street’s most prominent stores have been thrown into financial turmoil.
Fashion outlets Peacocks and Bon Marche are both owned by the same parent company, Peacock Group.
But the organisation has now gone into administration because of hundreds of millions of pounds worth of crippling debt.
The bombshell has sparked fears that the shops in Hucknall could be at risk of closure, leaving a big void in the town centre and undermining ambitious regeneration plans.
There is also a Bon Marche outlet on Main Street, Bulwell.
Administrators KPMG are now running the company, which employs 9,000 workers, and it is hoped buyers can be found to run both Peacocks stores and Bon Marche shops as going concerns.
But concerned Hucknall shoppers and key stakeholders in the town are watching developments very closely.
Town-centre manager, Mark Armstrong, said: “Loss of these shops could have a serious impact on the town centre.
“The ultimate thing for Hucknall is that these shops are kept in the town because they are a large part of High Street and a significant part of the draw to shop there.
“I am watching this on a daily basis and obviously everyone is concerned. Any closure would be a real body blow. I hope they can find buyers.”
The Bon Marche store in Hucknall has been open for an estimated 15 years and employs seven members of staff. Peacocks has been going for ten years in the town and has ten workers.
The original Peacocks was founded in 1884 as a penny bazaar in Warrington, Cheshire.
It took over rival Bon Marche in 2002 and currently has 611 stores in the UK and 117 around the world.
But it was bought out in 2006 and currently has a debt of £600 million. Efforts to restructure £240 million of this have failed.
There is encouragement that a deal might be struck to save the firm as it made a trading profit of £77 million in the last financial year and sales were up 17% over Christmas.
It is understood there are interested investors looking at the Bon Marche chain.
Hucknall’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, this week spoke in the House Of Commons in a debate on protecting the British High Street.
On the social-networking site Twitter, he said Hucknall needs a new big name on High Street and encouraged locals to support town-centre shops.
“Shops like Peacocks are crucial to the High Street’s survival,” he said. “Let’s hope the administrators can save the company and find a buyer.
“These shops can only survive if we use them. We need to come together as a community to protect the town centre.”
Peacocks and Bon Marche shops will remain open for the time being while administrators work behind the scenes.
But experts believe that ultimately some stores will close and jobs will go.
Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, who is deputy leader of Ashfield District Council, says he is “praying” Hucknall’s stores can be saved.
He added: “This is a big concern and we are hoping buyers can be found. We are not sitting there doing nothing and we are investigating if there is any help we can offer.
“If they do close, our regeneration team will work hard to replace them. But we hope it doesn’t come to that.”