Mike Ashley urged to save House of Fraser stores including iconic Beatties
Sportswear tycoon Mike Ashley has been urged to save Wolverhampton’s iconic Beatties store as well as other House of Fraser branches across the region after he agreed a £90 million takeover of the troubled company.
MPs and business leaders have called on the Sports Direct owner to save the stores earmarked for closure – including those in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Telford.
Experts say the billionaire businessman, who also owns Newcastle United Football Club, will make decisions on the future of House of Fraser stores based purely on whether they make financial sense.
Sports Direct, which has previously received criticism over the treatment of its staff, said it had bought all House of Fraser UK stores and stock, while sources said moves have already been made to convert some outlets to Sports Direct shops.
High street giant House of Fraser employs 17,000 people, 6,000 of which were due to be axed.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he would be seeking talks with Mr Ashley and said he hoped Beatties could yet be saved.
Signs advertising discounts of up to 70 per cent are currently up in the city centre branch, as it was expected to close next year.
Mr Street said: "I am hopeful the sale of House of Fraser will mean the new owners review the programme of closures of their stores before taking a final decision. The Wolverhampton store, in particular, has potential and I will be seeking to speak with the new owners soon."
Wolverhampton MP Emma Reynolds also urged the new owner to look closely at the viability of the shops planned for closure.
She said: "Beatties it is an iconic store in Wolverhampton and the city centre won't be the same without it.
"However, I hope Mike Ashley doesn't bring his working practices into the chain. I would certainly be worried about that.
"I would call on him to save Beatties. With more investment it could be put on a much more sustainable footing."
John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley, said Midlands stores should only be closed if there is no other option.
He said: "There has clearly been a lot of mismanagement but it would be tragic for Birmingham and the Black Country if these iconic stores were to go under.
"It is also devastating for the loyal staff and I hope every endeavour is taking to keep them running as a going concern and it is not just a slash and burn, to keep it's position in town centres in the interests of shoppers and staff."
He added: "The Government also needs to make sure it is a level playing field as there are many internet operations who avoid paying tax and have an unfair advantage."
Ninder Johal, a board member at the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership and former Chamber of Commerce president, said the move by Mr Ashley has provided hope for stores which had previously been written off.
He said: "He is a businessman and what will decide if the stores are retained is if they are profitable. If so, he may retain those.
"Will it make a difference? We don't know what numbers he has seen. With new owners, things may change. There are branches for the chop which suddenly have hope.
"Obviously he has bought it after it has gone into administration and it is the administrators job to get what they can for the business.
"He obviously sees a future in it because other potential buyers have walked away. He has not put £90m into a business he doesn't think he can rescue.
"He hasn't go to where he is by being sentimental but we have got to be optimistic."
It was announced in June that more than half of House of Fraser stores would be axed, including Beatties, which has been a fixture of Wolverhampton city centre since 1877.