David Jones says it has no plans to change its store operations in New Zealand, with Wellington's rumour mill rife with speculation it could be shutting its doors permanently after Covid-19.
The Australian retail giant first expanded into New Zealand in July 2016 with the opening of its Wellington store in an iconic Lambton Quay building that once housed the Kirkcaldie & Stains department store.
Its Auckland store was more than three years in the making after David Jones had originally planned to enter the market in the City of Sails but due to real estate availability, launched in the capital. It opened in Auckland in November last year.
Both stores are currently closed in Covid-19 alert Level 3.
Rumours of the retailer's exit from New Zealand were aired in the public participation section of a full Wellington City Council meeting yesterday.
Te Raukura The Wharewaka O Poneke chairwoman Liz Mellish told councillors they needed to think seriously about how to create jobs in such a "scary" time for the economy.
"I am concerned that places like David Jones may well close and that's been widely discussed in the business community, that's on our famous Lambton Quay."
But a David Jones spokesperson told the Herald the retailer was looking forward to reopening its Auckland and Wellington stores as soon as possible in line with government advice and there were no plans to change its store operations in New Zealand.
"While Covid-19 has provided challenges for all retail businesses, David Jones remains focused on navigating through these difficult times.
"We will continue to monitor government regulations closely, with the health and safety of our team and the community in mind, and look forward to welcoming the team and our valued customers back into store."
The spokesperson said there have been no redundancies in its New Zealand operations, and its staff were eligible for the Government's wage subsidy scheme.
David Jones has claimed nearly $1.2 million for 189 employees under the scheme as of April 27.
First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said David Jones was a big player in Wellington, in an iconic building that was part of the city's DNA.
"Instinctively, there will be a sentiment to support the home country. But at the end of the day these businesses will have commitments, like lease commitments, and some of these situations are not easy to extract themselves from."
Uncertainty was a problem for all businesses during the pandemic and whatever David Jones was thinking would be replicated across the country, Wilkinson said.
"As a city, and as every other city and region is doing, there is a strong focus on supporting local and I think it's important to say that should not just be local retailers but also local businesses that are employing local people and that goes for the likes of the big retailers like David Jones and Farmers."
Farmers has told staff it will continue to reduce wages as long as the store cannot open its doors.
Staff were being paid 80 per cent of normal wages, but that was likely to drop to 70 per cent in May and 60 per cent in June if stores were still not open then, according to a letter sent to staff by James Pascoe Ltd Group directors Anne and David Norman.
Wellington City Council economic development portfolio leader councillor Diane Calvert said they would give as much help to small retailers as big ones, because they all added to the city's vibrancy and created local jobs.
"It's about us being open for business and actually, we are going to do our utmost to help our retailer, hospitality and hotel sectors get through this.
"I want to give them trust and confidence that we will do what we can to help, because they're all a vital part of our city."