DEBENHAMS department store in Oxford could escape closure because it does not have a ground floor, according to a retail expert.

The chain is in talks with its banks after struggling financially and could close 20 of its 166 stores across the UK by the end of the year, putting 1,600 jobs at risk

The chain is said to be fast-tracking a deal with lenders to avoid administration and settle debts.

The Oxford Times:

It has not yet said which stores are to close but Keith Slater, a director of Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network, said he was convinced Debenhams' store in Magdalen Street would not be closed.

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He said: “There are a lot of worries in retail at the moment - a lot of chains are worried about repayment of loans, which is a problem for Debenhams.

“But the store seems quite busy and I do not think it is a desperately expensive store in terms of rent and rates because it does not have a ground floor - that will help enormously and means they will pay less.”

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Mr Slater added that he believed Debenhams in Oxford could survive alongside nearby family-run department store Boswells and John Lewis at the Westgate Centre.

He said: “I don’t think Debenhams is competing in the same market as Boswells.

“Debenhams does need to get better at what it does online and customers need to support the store in Oxford. It does not have its own car park but the car park at Gloucester Green is quite handy for people who shop there.”

The Oxford Times:

Debenhams announced in October that 50 stores would shut over the next three to five years, putting 4,000 jobs at risk.

The number shot up to 90 shops last month - more than half of the chain’s stores in the UK, which could put up to 10,000 jobs at risk.

Now it’s expected that the first 20 will close by the end of 2019.

Debenhams reported one of the worst Christmas results on the high street. It said that like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to January 5 fell by 5.7 per cent.

The Oxford Times:

Debenhams’ largest shareholder, billionaire Mike Ashley, has said he would like to take control of the struggling chain and merge it with House of Fraser. The Sports Direct boss, who has a 29 per cent stake in the chain, offered the company a £40m loan that would have allowed him to take control of the chain but the offer was declined.