Staff at historic department store Boswells have been told that it is 'almost certain' to close in 2020, the Oxford Mail can exclusively reveal.

The store on the corner of Broad Street and Cornmarket Street has been trading since 1738, and is the second oldest family-owned department store in the world.

READ AGAIN: Your memories of Boswells - plus pictures

About 70 employees were called in to a meeting at 9.30am this morning to be given the news that they are now facing redundancy just weeks before Christmas.

Oxford Mail:

It is understood they were warned at a previous meeting in August that the store would either close or undergo a major revamp.

READ AGAIN: Boswells - shoppers shocked and saddened by closure

London-based retail property consultants GCW have now been hired to advise Boswells regarding the sale of the city centre building.

READ AGAIN: Cafe closes at Oxford department store Boswells

Boswells board of directors issued the following statement: "The Board has been intensively pursuing all options for preserving the business but due to prevailing adverse retail conditions has concluded that the store is likely to close in 2020.
"GCW have been appointed to deal with all enquiries in respect of the property."

Oxford Mail:

Part of the Boswells building - the Broad Street side - is leased from the city council and it is understood that the lease runs until 2059.

Two of four directors, Sarah Pearson and Jonathan Pearson, are cousins and descendants of Arthur Pearson - their great-grandfather - who took over the business in 1890.

Oxford Mail:

They met the two other directors for a meeting in Windsor on Monday and arrived at the decision to consult GCW with a view to selling the building.

READ AGAIN: Debenhams' store still faces uncertain future in 2020

Mr Pearson told the Oxford Mail: "This is not a decision we have taken lightly - it is very much a last resort.

READ AGAIN: Boswells department store 'plans revamp'

"At a briefing in August we told staff that in 2020 we would either be closing or making significant changes which would result in significant redundancies.

Oxford Mail:

"The business is not making money and has not done for a couple of years - you can not go on like that forever and we want to come to an end in a controlled way.

"Our first concern is the staff - this will come as a shock to some of them.

"We want to thank all our staff and all our customers for their support over the years."

Oxford Mail:

Mr Pearson said Boswells has faced a 'perfect storm' of adverse trading conditions.

He added: "We are a business of a certain type and we have faced the pressures of online retail and changing shopping habits."

READ AGAIN: Cornmarket Street shopping block has gone

He did not cite the Westgate Centre, which reopened in 2017 with 100 new stores and restaurants, as a contributing factor.

Oxford Mail:

Ms Pearson added: "We tried to improve the situation with our website but that hasn't really worked."

Earlier this month there were signs all was not well at the department store when the 1738 Tea Room, which opened in 2015, was shut.

Mr Pearson added: "The cafe did okay and had lots of loyal customers but unfortunately it wasn't enough and visits to the cafe didn't lead to additional sales."

Oxford Mail:

The two directors said they have not yet contemplated a future use for the building.

Mr Pearson added: "Boswells is almost certain to close in 2020 and retail specialists GCW are now advising us on the various possibilities for the sale of the building."

He added that no specific date for the closure had yet been considered because it was 'such early days'.

Ms Pearson said: "I know there will be tears because of the finality of this - but staff are not silly - they can see the footfall coming through the door."

Oxford Mail:

Ms Pearson added that in previous years American tourists, and tourists from other countries, would 'spend loads' but in recent years this has not been happening.

She said: "Some tourists go straight to Bicester Village and are not coming to Oxford.

"We have modernised as much as we could over the years but there are limits."

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Toilets for customers have now been shut and a number of product lines have been axed including pet care and sport/fitness.

Sale signs have been displayed throughout the store.

Oxford Mail:

The longest serving member of staff has been at Boswells for 35 years and the second longest for 34 years.

Boswells celebrated its 280th anniversary last year.
To celebrate their long and rich history, staff placed a time capsule containing shoppers’ memories in the building’s roof.

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The capsule was due to be opened in 2038 to coincide with the business's 300th year.