John Lewis says low footfall and other costs is to blame for its decision to close its store in Watford - despite the company paying no rent to be there.

This morning, the department store giants announced it would be shutting eight stores including two of its major sites in Watford and Birmingham.

John Lewis say the eight shops identified were already "financially challenged" prior to Covid-19, and the pandemic has accelerated the switch from shopping in-store to online.

The closures will "secure the business' long-term future and respond to customers' shopping needs".

Earlier today, it emerged John Lewis does not actually pay any rent to be based at intu Watford.

The town's mayor, Peter Taylor, said: "John Lewis paid no rent on its site in Watford and it is clear they are facing a challenging time nationally and are looking to scale back their business.

"Covid-19 is proving tough for many retailers and I would encourage everyone in our town to support our local businesses - they need your help now more than ever.

"I have contacted the chairman of John Lewis and have had a meeting with the retailer today. Along with the shopping centre’s management we have tried to persuade John Lewis to stay in the town.

"I will be demanding answers to people’s questions, particularly why exactly they have chosen to close the Watford store and whether there is anything we can do to reverse this decision."

Watford Observer:

With 42 of its stores open or reopening across the country, we asked John Lewis for further details about why it had decided to close the Watford store, which has been in the town, under different names, for 140 years, if it did not pay rent.

A spokesperson for John Lewis responded: "Closing shops is always a last resort, however, the overall operational costs of continuing to trade and anticipated footfall were factored into the proposal not to reopen.

"Rent is only one element of the total cost of operating one of our branches, and of our total occupational property costs."

Watford Observer:

intu, the operators of intu Watford, are also in trouble

Caroline Sampson created a petition earlier this week to stop John Lewis from closing after learning it was at risk.

Following the closure, she said: "The 4,000 signatures on my petition shows the strength of feeling and affection and support the shop has. I would really like to hope the mayor could engage in conversation with John Lewis to persuade them to rethink.

"Why have Watford and Birmingham been singled out, particularly if the Watford branch does not pay rent? I would urge John Lewis to rethink and at least reopen for a trial six month period."

The loss of John Lewis is another hammer blow to Watford's town centre shopping experience, following the loss of Debenhams.

Watford Observer:

Debenhams at intu Watford has closed as well

intu, the operators of the shopping centre, is in its own financial mess and is currently in administration, although intu Watford remains open.

In a statement following the announcement from John Lewis, the town's mayor said: "I know that our town will work together to get through this pandemic and the economic challenges that we face.

"We need to care for each other and adapt to the new realities that we face so that we get through this difficult period together."

Full list of John Lewis stores closing permanently

Watford (Department store)

Birmingham Bullring (Department store)

Swindon (At Home)

Croydon (At Home)

Newbury (At Home)

Tamworth (At Home)

Heathrow Terminal Two (Travel Hub)

London St Pancras (Travel Hub)

John Lewis in Brent Cross is reopening on July 30. The branch in Welwyn Garden City reopened on June 18.