THE flagship store in Festival Place may be forced to close after JD Sports confirmed it had pulled out of a possible rescue deal.

Debenhams confirmed yesterday they will begin the liquidation process, putting 12,000 workers at risk.

The 242-year-old department store chain said its administrators have “regretfully” decided to start winding down operations while continuing to seek offers “for all or parts of the business”.

Council leader Ken Rhatigan described the potential closure as a ‘devastating blow’ but he is still hoping that the store may survive in Basingstoke.

It is understood that the collapse of rescue talks were partly linked to the administration of Arcadia Group, which is the biggest operator of concessions in Debenhams stores.

Debenhams said it will continue to trade through its 124 UK stores and online to clear its current and contracted stocks.

Cllr Rhatigan told the Gazette: “It’s a devastating blow, if I’m honest, especially for the staff but for all the people who use it it’s a flagship store in Basingstoke.

“It’s one that I personally use, me and my wife we buy many things there, I wear suits that I’ve bought there.

“It’s a very very bitter blow economically, it will be heart-breaking to lose that site.

“My hope is that something can come from the ashes."

He described the demise of high street shops both ‘worrying and destressing’ and stated the council will help in anyway they can to make sure the site is not vacant for any length of time.

“My hope is that some stores in some way can survive in the Debenhams group and that one of those would be Basingstoke”

Chief executive of Basingstoke Together, Jane Stewart said that coronavirus had shone a light on high street business that were facing financial difficulty pre pandemic.

She explained: “The global pandemic has accelerated the evolution the high street was experiencing. 

“Those businesses who have been agile and able to pivot their business model will come out of this stronger.  “

There are many examples and positive stories in our town centre of businesses that have successfully evolved or changed what they do to meet customer needs. 

“And there are examples of businesses that have opened during this period of uncertainty. 

Our thoughts are with those employees of Debenhams and the Arcadia Group who are facing an uncertain future in the new year.’”