An employee of Wellington’s David Jones says she “feels like crying” at the thought of the closure of the luxury department store, which she says is like no other.
The flagship store, which opened in Lambton Quay in the heart of the city’s Golden Mile in July 2016, is home to some of the world’s most prestigious fashion brands, including the likes of Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Prada and Versace.
The Australian chain took over the lease of Wellington retail institution Kirkcaldie & Stains, when it closed after more than 150 years in business.
An employee, who didn’t wish to be named, said she was incredibly sad about the news, not just because of her job, but mainly because of her love for the store.
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“I loved it as a customer and now I love it as an employee. There are no other luxury department stores like it in Wellington. Is there anything we can do to stop it? I hope so.”
The woman, who started working at the store when it opened in 2016, said she was inundated with messages from friends following the announcement and said at least 10 customers had come up to her asking about the closure.
She said employees were told they could apply for jobs at the chain’s Auckland and Australian stores and that the company would assist them in finding new jobs.
MONIQUE FORD / FAIRFAX NZ
A crowd of about 100 waited outside to be among the first inside Wellington’s newest store, David Jones. Published July 2016.
A David Jones spokesperson said the company was consulting closely with all team members regarding their ongoing employment options and support.
“We are committed to exploring all future opportunities for our team via David Jones, our brand partners and Country Road Group sister brands.”
It is understood more than 150 people are employed at the Wellington store.
Customers outside the store on Wednesday said the decision was “huge news” and a sign of the current pressures on the retail sector.
Lance Webster described the announcement as “a very, very sad day for Wellington”.
“It’s the last department store in Wellington. It’s huge news. There is just something about a department store,” he said.
Chelsy Killick asked for David Jones to reconsider closing the store and said some staff members had also worked for Kirks, and been there for about 20 years.
“Don’t do it. Wellingtonians should really get behind them,” she said.
First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said David Jones’ looming departure was “very sad” as the premises had long anchored Wellington’s downtown offering.
Customers give their verdict on the new David Jones store. Published July 2016.
“It has been a retail destination for many generations … the challenges right now will be finding businesses that can take the scale of space.
“It is very unlikely that an organisation would take the majority of the space and, at the moment, there is not that demand for large format inner-city retail. It is very, very challenging,” Wilkinson said.
The Wellington Chamber of Commerce said the store’s closure was “somewhat reflective of the current retail environment, certainly accentuated by the impacts of Covid-19 but also changing consumer needs”.
“There is a real need for retail businesses to shift and be dynamic, driven by the demands to deliver for the changing market.
The David Jones spokesperson said the decision had not been made lightly.
“We sincerely thank our customers and our team for their support and commitment.”
David Jones’ parent company, Woolworths Holdings – which is headquartered in South Africa – told the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in September of its intention to close up to 10 stores in New Zealand and Australia.
David Jones opened its 7000-square-metre Auckland outlet in the revamped Westfield Newmarket complex in November 2019, despite “aggressively” closing stores in Australia as profits plunged. That store will remain open.
A statement from the company on Wednesday said it was looking forward to introducing David Jones online to all customers in the second half of 2022, closely following the Wellington store closure.