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End of the line for Lewis's?

Crisis time for Liverpool's oldest department store as parent company goes into administration.

Published on March 2nd 2007.

End of the line for Lewis's?

It was dubbed “the store that even Hitler couldn't kill”, but shocked staff at Liverpool's best known department store were reeling from the bombshell this morning (Wednesday) that their jobs hang in the balance after its parent company went into administration.

Owen Owen, owner of Lewis's in Ranelagh Steet, and stores in Hexham, Aberdeen and Sunderland, made the announcement to workers today that the future of the business was in serious jeopardy, after an illustrious history that began, for it, with a drapery shop in London Road.

It is believed that most of the admin staff at Owen Owen's head office, which is located in the Liverpool Lewis's building, will go, and a up to 1,000 people right across the business will be affected, as many as 500 in Liverpool. All of the stores will remain trading for the next 10 to 12 weeks while a buyer for the business is sought, a staff member, who did not wish to be named, exclusively told Liverpool Confidential on Wednesday morning, ahead of the media announcement.

The Lewis's building is one of Liverpool's best known landmarks, rebuilt in neoclassical portland stone glory after the Luftwaffe destroyed it in the 1941 Blitz. But by the late 1950s, the only thing that was booming was business, with seven floors of goods on polished display and its iconic and controversial statue of a naked man, “Liverpool Resurgent”, a popular meeting place immortalised in the song In My Liverpool Home.

Lewis's long history began in 1856, when 16-year-old David Lewis, the son of a Jewish merchant from London, set up a small men's and boys' clothes shop on the site. It was no more than 24ft long and had only a single door but he responded to the demand for cheap, ready-made clothing.

"When Lewis's first opened its motto was 'friends of the people'. It aimed to sell the best range of products at the best prices," Angela Murray, the store's visual marketing controller, told the Liverpool Daily Post last year when the store celebrated its 150th birthday.

"David Lewis wanted to make products available that previously only the merchant classes could afford. In the late 1880s tea was really a drink that only the rich drank but he made it available to the masses."

Lewis's has been struck down before. It went into administration in 1991 but was bought by Owen Owen, another historical company founded in Liverpool – by then, owned by one Philip Green. The building was sold off to landlords and the first four floors rented back to the business.

Now it is Owen Owen, currently owned by David Thompson, ex-MD of Mk One, which has delivered this new crisis to the door under Dickie Lewis.

But can it recover this time? The news is a big blow for a formerly prosperous part of the city centre that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Nearby Lime Street, with its closed cinemas and boarded up shops, is shabby at best, while across town, the Met Quarter and Paradise Project promise to lure in a new generation of shopper by keeping up with the trends and times.

Perhaps this has been Lewis's failing? Staff say that much needed young, affluent shoppers were staying away in droves, despite a first floor of concessions including Warehouse, Mexx and Morgan.

At this stage it is unclear how many staff face losing their jobs, as many people working in the building are employed by those outlets. It is also unclear, right now, what redundancy arrangements are in place if a rescue package cannot be found.

Nobody from the head office was available for comment on Wednesday morning.

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fred snowden-leakFebruary 28th 2007.

i was a driver at lewis,s from 1979 to 1990 till it closed,it was a great atmospere with all staff,i loved the store

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