Magasin du Nord: the last jewel in the Debenhams crown

The Danish department store says it is at ‘no risk’ of collapse despite the impending demise of its British owner

Early Christmas decorations outside Magasin du Nord 
Magasin du Nord is a symbol of Danish Christmas Credit: Alamy

Christmas shoppers filled Copenhagen’s upmarket Magasin du Nord department store on Thursday night, picking up toys, designer clothing, soaps, lotions and the luxury chocolate boxes that are an essential part of a proper Danish Jul – for the well-heeled at least.

Most had no idea that Debenhams, the store’s owner, is in the middle of a liquidation, and those that did had no fears whatsoever for its future.

“Magasin, at this time of year, is a symbol of Christmas,” beams Katrine Vemmevald as she removes her mask after stepping out onto Kongens Nytorv square in front of the Royal Danish Theatre. “It’s right in the centre of Copenhagen, and it’s where people meet at this time of year, and buy their Christmas presents.”

“It’s like the Tiffany’s of Denmark,” says another shopper Viktor Szulz. “A lot of people have traditions related to it. They have their own brands that some people are very beholden to, especially older people – it’s been around for a very long time.”

The Magasin du Nord building has stood on Kongens Nytorv square in the centre of Copenhagen for more than 150 years Credit: Getty

The ground floor of the store, still in the French Chateau-style building where it moved in 1870, is clad with Christmas tree branches and strings of silvery lights, and the window displays have a festive theme.

Inside, Mehdi Hamzi, who is selling Australian Botanicals, a cosmetics brand from his home country, says that apart from the six weeks when all Danish retail was closed, Magasin has been busy throughout the pandemic. A government decision to release money given to all Danes as part of a change in the pension system helped keep customers coming through the doors.

“I don’t think the pandemic has had much effect on how busy it’s been,” he says. “Actually, it’s been even more busy since the Danish government allowed us to get our pensions money.”

Although he was aware of Debenhams’ impending liquidation, Hamzi says it is not something being discussed by his Magasin colleagues.

The chain has three other stores in Copenhagen, along with branches in Odense, Aarhus and Aalborg and an online operation.

Looking for new owners

The group has been up for sale since September 2018 and is thought to be worth between £150m and £200m. Following this week’s decision to wind up Debenhams, Magasin finance chief Peter Fabricius said there was no risk of the Danish chain facing a similar fate.

“We have a healthy operation and there is no reason to speculate that Debenhams’ announcement could in any way have negative consequences for Magasin,” he told Denmark’s Ritzau news agency.

Possible buyers include Anders Holch Povlsen, the retail billionaire behind brands including Jack & Jones and Vero Moda who is the biggest shareholder in Asos and has the second-largest stake in Zalando.

Magasin customer Majbritt Eriksen hopes Magasin will not go the way of Copenhagen’s other upmarket department store, Illum, which was bought by Thailand’s Central Group five years ago.

“It’s a Danish icon, so I’m concerned that it’s going to end up like Illum. I like local stuff. So if a Danish rich guy could buy this and make it Danish, again, I’d like it,” she says. 

Read more: Too little too late: the undignified demise of Debenhams