High street shop closures will put 10,000 jobs at risk

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of high street jobs were lost or put at risk yesterday, as the tally of retail failures mounted and more firms signalled plans to shut stores.

The deepening of the crisis facing the high street saw department store chain TJ Hughes move to appoint administrators in a potential failure, putting 4,000 jobs in danger. A further 400 jobs were lost at fashion chain Jane Norman after administrators confirmed the closure of 33 out of 94 stores.

Thorntons also announced it is to close up to half its stores over the next three years, putting 750 jobs at risk. The chocolate maker will shut at least 120 of its 364 stores at a cost of up to £4.8m and has earmarked another 60 branches for possible closure. The job losses will affect up to 17 per cent of the workforce as the company marks 100 years in business.

The proposed cuts mean about 10,000 British retail jobs have been put at threat in the past week, after Habitat and Homeform, the kitchens group behind Moben, also entered administration.

Jonathan Hart, Thorntons' new chief executive, said the closures would be broadly spread through the country but would be mainly in smaller high streets and shopping centres.

The closures are further grim news for Britain's provincial town centres, which are feeling the pressure of the economic downturn, out-of-town competition and the threat of the internet.

Mr Hart, who joined Thorntons in January, spent six months examining the business store by store. He said the company was suffering from customers reining in spending because of economic uncertainty, but admitted that Thorntons had also not done a good job of selling its goods.

The company's shares fell by 7 per cent to 58p – their lowest since March 2009, in the depths of the recession.

Mr Hart said Thorntons relied too much on Christmas and Easter, and outside those periods "I would suggest the customer has to work very hard to find a solution to their gifting needs." Analysts at Execution Noble said: "The key here remains Thorntons' ability to recapture sales lost from closed stores at other channels...Management has a lot to prove."

The company is also targeting more than £2m in cost cuts, including the farming out of its warehouse and distribution operations.

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