COMMERCIAL PROPERTY, SALES & LEASINGCORONAVIRUS COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Lew sets the scene for a stoush with landlords

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SOLOMON Lew’s Premier Investments has closed all of its 900 Australian retail stores for at least one month and thrown down the gauntlet to landlords, saying it intends to not pay rent on any of its stores during the shutdown.

Premier, whose brands include Peter Alexander, Smiggle, Jay Jays, Just Jeans and Portmans, had threatened to shutter stores if landlords did not lower rents in response to hardships created by the coronavirus outbreak.

It announced a record first half profit of $99.6 million and has $200 million of cash on hand and $101 million of debts.

The company’s entire executive team will be stood down and work from home during the period for no pay or reduced leave entitlements, while over 9,000 staff across its global store network will also be stood down.

In a statement yesterday, Premier said it had “no choice but to temporarily close all retail stores” in Australia, following similar decisions taken in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

“In Australia and New Zealand close to 70% of stores are already in holdover or with leases expiring in 2020 providing the Group with maximum flexibility. These extraordinary circumstances mean Premier intends not to pay any rent globally for the duration of the shutdown.”

Jewellery chain Michael Hill this week voluntarily shut its store network indefinitely, leaving another 167 shops across Australia inactive, while Flight Centre has announced the closure of 200 stores, doubling the previous figure of up to 100 stores in intended to shutter following the outbreak. The number represents about 30% of its 689 Australian stores, and about 6,000 staff will be stood down.

One of Australia’s casualties of the tough retail environment earlier in the year, Colette by Colette Hayman, will close all of its remaining 105 stores, 93 of which are in Australia, as trading conditions worsen.

Deloitte Restructuring Services partners Vaughan Strawbridge, Sam Marsden and Jason Tracy were appointed voluntary administrators at the end of January and announced the closure of 33 stores across Australia and New Zealand as part of the process of the business for sale.

They said all stores would close “to ensure the health and personal safety of employees and customers of the business, and trading conditions brought on by covid-19”.

The closures will effect about 210 permanent staff plus casuals. Stores in in New Zealand have already closed as a result of the government imposed lockdown.

“These are extraordinary times, and there is also no certainty that many retail operators in Australia will be able to continue trading amidst so much uncertainty and with public health measures changing so frequently,” Strawbridge said.