Iconic dept store announces closures
Twenty one Harris Scarfe stores across five states will close over the next four weeks after the retailer was placed in receivership in December.
The administrators say 44 stores will continue to trade with the group offered for sale. The closures include Harris Scarfe's flagship store on Adelaide's main shopping strip of Rundle Mall.
Deloitte Restructuring Services partner Vaughan Strawbridge says the move to close stores was a difficult decision but necessary to position the Harris Scarfe business for a successful sale.
"All efforts are being made to redeploy affected staff around the rest of the store network, and all staff that leave the business will receive all wages and entitlements in full on the closure of
individual stores," Mr Strawbridge said.
"Our review of the store network included a range of factors, including past and likely future profitability.
"Going forward, we certainly remain focused on running the broader store network and selling the business as the best outcome for remaining employees and suppliers."
The stores to close are in Western Australia, Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia and include the flagship Rundle Mall store in Adelaide.
Harris Scarfe was founded 170 years ago in central Adelaide and was rescued from bankruptcy in 2001. It has since changed hands four times.
The SDA retail union said the loss of the Rundle Mall store would bring an end to 170 years of trading in the city centre.
"This closure is the result of poor decision making that has driven its flagship store into an unprofitable position over the past 15 years," the union said.
"Harris Scarfe Rundle Mall has provided work for countless South Australians and this is a huge loss for our state."
The SDA also called on the federal government to address wider issues across the retail sector in the wake of poor sales.
Despite some stores remaining open, retail experts have said the plunge back into receivership will likely be the final chapter for the chain.
Sector consultant at Retail Doctor Group, Brian Walker, said the company's best chance of survival is to be "dismembered" and although there are potential buyers he says the continuation of South Australia's oldest retailer is "more unlikely than likely"
"The business has had the ruler run over it by various potential suitors," he told news.com.au.
"A couple have said that not without a radical restructuring would it hold value, and that tells me that some assets will be sold off but I don't think we'll see the Harris Scarfe that we once saw.
"And frankly, I think the market has moved on from it anyway."
University of Tasmania retail expert Louise Grimmer echoed this sentiment, providing an equally bleak forecast for the once iconic department store.
"It's sad to see any Australian business go under, particularly one with such a history in the sector but, in the end, retailers must adapt to change and it appears that Harris Scarfe just weren't able to do this," she said.
"This will certainly have an impact on the smaller communities in which these stores operate - particularly Launceston in my home state of Tasmania.
Dr Grimmer said retailers such as Harris Scarfe are stuck in "bland land" - the middle of the market, unable to attract budget shoppers or compete against glitzy rivals David Jones and Myer.
She says Target is another vulnerable chain as the economy shrinks and consumer confidence continues to weaken.