John Lewis Partnership confirmed the closure of eight of its stores on Wednesday, including its Sheffield firm which was first established in 1847 as Cole Brothers. John Lewis York is also set to close.
Samuel Thompson, 19, a Mathematics student at the University of Sheffield, set up a petition to save the store and to show the 304 affected employees how important they are to the community, but didn’t expect the overwhelming response.
He said: “I immediately thought to make a petition because John Lewis holds a really special place in the hearts of the people of Sheffield.
“No stores in London have closed yet two stores in Yorkshire have closed. I feel like they aren’t giving John Lewis Sheffield the chance to recover and show its potential after lockdown and COVID.”
Mr Thompson, who was born in Sheffield and has lived in the city his whole life, said he was devastated to hear the news.
He added: “I think Sheffield is on a knife’s edge when it comes to becoming a developed and prominent city centre in England and falling into stagnation and slowly deteriorating. I feel John Lewis closing could be the thing that pushes Sheffield into the wrong direction and cause a ripple effect that will send Sheffield into decline.
“John Lewis is the heart of Sheffield City Centre. It has a place in the heart of Sheffield residents and it’s the reason I go into the town centre. Closing it really would be ripping the heart out of Sheffield.”
The establishment became John Lewis in 1940 and is the oldest of the stores set to close.
In 2020, John Lewis gave up its lease for the site to Sheffield City Council for £3m in exchange for a cheaper 20-year-lease.
A statement from the council said that any change to the site’s lease would need their approval. The council added: "John Lewis may plan to close the store, but they are still tied to a lease with the council.
"If they want to bring that arrangement to an end, there is a commercial arrangement to be agreed between the parties with a payment due from John Lewis."
John Lewis Partnership has claimed that the decision is due to the shops being financially challenged prior to the pandemic and the shift towards online shopping will mean this will not improve, with an expectation of 60% to 70% of John Lewis sales to be made online in the future.
The firm have also said that they will help affected employees find new roles if redundancies are confirmed.
Sharon White, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “We appreciate this is incredibly difficult news for our Partners and the people of Sheffield.
“While the shop was financially challenged prior to the pandemic, we were determined that with additional investment, we would be able to play a key role in the regeneration of the city centre.
“However, the pandemic has had an irreversible impact on retail and we must make difficult decisions to ensure the Partnership is sustainable in the future.”