Almost 10 years after closing, Reading’s former Jacksons department store now has its fifth owner – but still has no commercial occupiers.
The decade of failed attempts to revitalise the building at 1-9 King’s Road, despite millions of pounds spent, has characterised the iconic site, home to the department store for 138 years.
After closing at the end of 2013, Jacksons Ltd sold the building to Kapita Hall in early 2014 for £1.6 million.
After gaining planning permission for 29 flats on the upper floors and in a new block behind, Kapita Hall sold the site to Reading Securities (also referred to as SG Capital) in 2016 for £4.5m.
In 2017 Reading Securities, having achieved further planning permission which included an increase in the number of residential units to 33, sold the site for £6.5m to a firm called 1-9 King’s Road LLP, which was owned by Ankor Properties with funding from OakNorth Bank.
By 2023, 1-9 Kings Rd LLP had become insolvent and OakNorth Bank had taken ownership and sold it for what we understand to be £5m to Sykes Capital this Summer.
Sykes Capital, in line with its publicity policy, declined to comment but the company is having success in bringing restaurant occupiers into The Village, formerly King’s Walk, a nearby shopping precinct which has long struggled to succeed.
Under Reading Securities’ ownership, lettings of the three commercial units on the ground floor of the Jacksons unit were announced as Byron Burgers, pizza restaurant Franco Manca and Thai restaurant Busaba Eathai, but none of those deals went ahead. More recently, burger restaurant Fat Hippo and Rosa Thai had appeared to secure deals but those are also unlikely to proceed.
OakNorth Bank also declined to comment but Fiona Brownfoot, retail director for Hicks Baker, said the bank, when it took ownership, would have had to take on considerable costs in the conversion of the building’s entire 23,654 sq ft which includes flats above the ground floor.
She said: “I can only hazard a guess at what the conversion costs might have been but, if you assume £150 per sq ft, then that’s £3.5m on top of the purchase price (£6.5m) so the site would have stood them in at least £10m – and that doesn’t include finance cost – and yet it sold for £5m.
“When people have a pop at supposedly, greedy developers, they conveniently ignore the huge risk that they take and this example just goes to show how it can go horribly wrong. And without developers taking risks, we would have no built environment.”
Heritage of the site had been key in gaining planning consents for conversion.
Richard Bennett, chair of Reading Civic Society, said, from a heritage and personal view, the building exterior has been successfully preserved.
He told Thames Tap: “Despite the disappointing frequent changes in ownership, the work done to the site has certainly ensured that a key heritage building in the centre of Reading has been restored externally.
“The sign has been kept (as required by planning consent) and the additional accommodation, which has been built at the back, has not had a major impact on views.”
However, he argues that the thinking behind the planned retail units on the ground floor was less impressive.
He said: “The original proposed uses were pretty predictable and unimaginative. Since then of course, the retail sector has faced, and continues to face, major problems. So they are not the only units looking for a suitable use.
“Looking at the Sykes Capital website, it says they ‘bring a new management style and initiatives to evolve the business’. John Sykes (founder of the foundation), is certainly very positive in supporting many charities.
“It is to be hoped, therefore, that he will bring some new thinking to the potential uses of these units in the near future. They have been empty for long enough.
“If the mystery of why this is the case is not solved quickly then we will have to get Endeavour back to crack the case!”
The store was used by some well-known figures. Ulrika Jonsson bought school uniforms for her children there, Tim Henman, who along with his wife, bought tennis clothes there, and Arthur English, who starred in 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served? – set in a store notably similar to Jacksons – was once spotted by staff in the shop.
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