Fashion chain Gap is to close 19 stores in the UK and Ireland as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the high street, while a distribution centre in Rugby remains at risk.
A spokesperson confirmed that the US-owned chain had decided not to renew store leases that expire next month, in a retrenchment that follows a strategic review of its European presence.
Gap did not offer any detail on which stores will close or how many jobs would be lost as a result. But unlike big high street names that have disappeared from the high street for good during the pandemic – such as TopShop and Debenhams – Gap said it would still have more than 50 stores in the UK and Ireland.
The decision is the result of a strategic review of the San Francisco-based firm’s European operations that began in October last year.
The company said at the time that it was considering closing stores in the UK, Ireland, France and Italy and that its European Union distribution centre near Rugby was also under threat. Its future is still being considered as part of the company’s ongoing strategic review.
Gap, which also owns Banana Republic, was forced to close stores worldwide due to the pandemic, with a net 204 stores shutting their doors permanently during 2020.
It lost $665m (£471m) in the year to the end of January 2021 but has since seen its fortunes improve.
It booked a profit of $166m in the three months to the end of May, on sales of $3.9bn, higher than the revenue figure it reported in the same period of 2019, the last comparable quarter before the pandemic.
The pandemic has claimed a string of well-known high street fashion chains, as lockdown measures led to deserted high streets and accelerated a trend towards online shopping.
TopShop and Debenhams both fell victim to coronavirus, as did Cath Kidston, Oasis and Warehouse.
In many cases, firms were already struggling financially and could not survive the body blow of prolonged closure, even with government support.
Collectively, British high streets lost more than 17,500 chain outlets in 2020 alone, with further damage likely to have been inflicted in 2021.
In April, a study by the Centre for Retail Research found that almost 190,000 jobs had been lost in retail between the start of the pandemic and 31 March 2021.
The British Retail Consortium has warned that closures and job losses remain a significant risk despite the easing of restrictions.
The trade body’s boss Helen Dickinson warned MPs on the Treasury select committee earlier this week that the looming 1 July expiration of a moratorium on landlords demanding rent arrears could cause further damage to the sector.