Past Times collapse threatens 1,000 jobs


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The Independent Online

Up to 1,000 jobs are at risk as the retailer of retro-themed gifts, Past Times, is set to be put into administration in the New Year as the latest chain to fall victim to the economic crisis.

The board of Past Times, which is owned by Epic Private Equity, confirmed yesterday that it intends to appoint administrators – which, it is believed, will be KPMG – to the retailer which has 100 shops across the country. Legally, there must be a 10-day gap between an intention to enter administration being lodged with the High Court and its starting. This means the process is likely to start during the second week of January. Past Times is said to have performed below expectations in the pre-Christmas period – crucial for the gift market – despite heavy discounting and its marketing of Downton Abbey-themed memorabilia. Past Times made a loss of £1.53m in 2010, on turnover of £46.5m. Ironically, it was brought out of administration by Epic for £7.75m in 2005.

Administration in the New Year might not mean the end for the Past Times brand, however. Neville Kahn, head of global reorganisation services at Deloittes, said: "Some high-street retailers may look at administration in the first quarter as a way to reorganise their business; shut unprofitable stores while keeping some core locations open. This is what we could be seeing with retailers such as D2 Jeans and maybe Past Times as well."

Epic added that its other major retail investment – Whittard of Chelsea – was performing well. The tea specialist was bought by Epic in 2008 and has enjoyed 3 per cent like-for-like sales growth as well as a 37 per cent surge in online sales.

Elsewhere, Hammerson, the owner of 10 large shopping centres in the UK – including Brent Cross in North London and the Bullring in Birmingham – has reported a bumper start to the sales. "Despite pressure on household budgets, we have seen some exceptional trading. Centres across the country have been reporting record-breaking numbers of visitors looking to take advantage of Boxing Day sales," David Atkins, chief executive of Hammerson. Brent Cross had a record footfall this Boxing Day with 65,000 visitors, up 27 per cent on the year before. At WestQuay in Southampton, more than 55,000 people flocked to the centre on Boxing Day, an increase of 43 per cent compared with 2010.