SPECULATION is mounting that retail group John Lewis wants to open a store in Chester.
The Guardian newspaper says the group has identified 30 locations for new department stores as part of an aggressive expansion scheme to double the size of the business.
News that John Lewis may be interested in locating in Chester is welcome given the proposed Northgate Development appears to be stalling due to the global credit crunch
The article, by Guardian City editor Julie Finch, said: “The towns and cities initially being targeted by the chain are being kept under wraps, but they are thought to include locations such as Chester and York.”
John Lewis spokeswoman Frederika Latif said there were no immediate plans to open a store in Chester and the article was “speculation at the moment”.
The chain has 26 department stores and hopes to open 24 more in the next decade.
New stores cost about £30m each to build and doubling the size of the chain would require an investment of more than £700m.
Almost all John Lewis stores are about 14,000 sq metres (150,000 sq ft) with 1,000 staff and 300,000 product lines.
However, locations that cannot support a large full-line department store could get a new shop of two-thirds of the normal size. The smaller stores would then piggy-back on to larger shops and share their infrastructure such as distribution and call- centre services.
The 30 towns and cities were selected after a major research project which looked at the trading potential in Britain’s top 250 towns and cities. It identified 30 locations that could sustain a new store. The findings of the research were presented to the John Lewis board at the end of last year.
The group is approaching property developers to find sites in the selected towns and is making direct approaches to local authorities. It is bringing in retail architects from Japan to come up with radical new looks for the stores.
The expansion plan comes at a time when retailers are facing increasingly challenging conditions on the high street. The credit crunch has taken hold and consumer confidence has been shaken.