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John Lewis may be an icon of British retail but it is now turning landlord with plans for homes across 20 of its sites and this week got the greenlight to convert almost half of its flagship Oxford Street store into offices.
The repurposing of its property estate says much about the crisis gripping bricks and mortar retail, as stores grapple with the toxic combination of the pandemic and competition from online rivals. It also hints at the changing shape of the UK’s high streets.
According to the Local Data Company, the number of retail units in the UK fell 7 per cent between 2015 and July this year, as 32,500 more stores closed than opened. The number of shops lost each year has grown steadily. Even so, 2020 stands out: there has been a net loss of 7,834 units in the first half of the year, ahead of every other full year on record and not far short of the 9,169 lost in 2019.

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