The Beauty Hall from Next is to take over part of the Debenhams store at The Oracle after the department store announced the Reading shop will not reopen after lockdown.

Debenhams is to close stores at five Hammerson centres: The Bullring in Birmingham, Centrale at Croydon, Silverburn in Glasgow, High Cross in Leicester, and The Oracle, Reading.

Now the former Debenhams beauty hall will be converted into The Beauty Hall from Next, part of a likely split up of the three floors into varied units.

In March, The Oracle was given planning permission by Reading Borough Council to split its other anchor store, House of Fraser, into separate units which include a bowling alley, food hall, mini-golf and café while maintaining retail on the upper ground level.

Fiona Brownfoot, retail partner for Hicks Baker, said: “Hammerson will be looking to try all sorts of different things on different floors (of Debenhams), such as serviced offices which you could do on the top floor.

“There has got to be diverse uses, such as those that had not previously been considered.”

She said Hammerson had considered bringing TK Maxx into the centre in recent times, a significant change in direction to when the centre opened in 1999.

She added: “At one time, they would not have wanted TK Maxx in their centre. They have to broaden their horizons. They will be looking at anything and everything.

“There will not be a tenant to take the whole store, there are just not those operators around. It has to be split, floor by floor.”

Both Debenhams and House of Fraser will retain retail uses on the prime upper ground floor of the centre.

However, the move mirrors the shift away from the previous concept of anchor stores at either end of the shopping centre.

Ms Brownfoot said: “Five years ago it would have been unthinkable not to have a large anchor store at a shopping centre and, for probably two or three years, I’ve been saying the only department stores we will be left with are those such as John Lewis together with other large iconic ones.

“Stores like Harrods and Selfridges will remain but I think the others will go under.”

Debenhams had tried to negotiate a deal for its stores in Hammerson centres but failed to agree terms.

The Beauty Hall from Next will replace Debenhams’ beauty halls in all five shopping centres. Hammerson said in a press statement it will also pursue opportunities to repurpose the other floors as it continues to reduce the amount of department store space in its portfolio.

David Atkins, Hammerson chief executive, said: “This is a challenging time for all of us, so it’s really encouraging to see strong, innovative brands like Next work with us to plan for the future.

“This is the right decision not only for consumers but for our communities more broadly, as it will create employment prospects and support local economies all over the country.

“This is another example of how we are repurposing department store space and improving the shopping experience for consumers. The Beauty Hall from Next is a great concept and it’s a real vote of confidence in our flagship destinations that Next has chosen these locations to launch its new offer.”

Nigel Horton-Baker, executive director, Reading UK, said: “Debenhams, along with a number of large-scale retailers has been struggling for a number of years and COVID-19 has been the final nail in the coffin.

“The Oracle’s plans for the space, as with the House of Fraser end of the mall, is symptomatic of the transition away from large units to mid-size chains, experiences and smaller niche outlets. 

“We are also likely to see an extension of this in the town centre as larger commercial property spaces are broken up and taken on by small independents.”

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