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LONDON-Higher rents are putting the squeeze on London’s trendiest shopkeepers. Laura Ashley has become the second leading retailer to announce it was closing its top store in London’s West End in less than a week. The group blamed a rise in rents to unprofitable levels for its decision to quit one of Britain’s most prestigious shopping areas, Regent Street. The move was prompted by an announcement on the part of the owner, Crown Estates, to increase rent by 19 times its current level. News of the closure comes five days after House of Fraser said it was shutting its nearby Dickins & Jones store.

Crown Estates, which manages the former estates of the monarch, raised the rent on the 10,000-sf store for the first time in 48 years. The rent was last reviewed in 1957, said a spokesman for the company.

Laura Ashley officials, confirming the decision in a prepared statement, commented that the retailer, “remains committed to its presence in London’s West End and has three remaining stores in the area, including one on Oxford Street. Our decision to withdraw our Regent Street store came after a review that saw an increase in rents to levels that would have made it unprofitable to continue.” Before yesterday’s announcement, Laura Ashley had 184 stores in Britain after closing 22 during the previous financial year and opening six.

A week ago, House of Fraser PLC also unveiled its decision to close its 170-year-old Dickins & Jones outlet on Regent Street, also because of higher rents—a burdensome cost coming as it does when sales are being depressed by a slowdown in consumer spending. “If you look at Dickins & Jones, they have had the same problem,” said a spokesperson for Laura Ashley. The retailer will continue to operate its store on nearby Oxford Street and won’t rule out opening another central London outlet in the future, she said.

The Crown Estate is spending euro 747 million ($1.1 billion) to redevelop its Regent Street properties, and last month leased the final three units of a project opposite the Laura Ashley store to retailers including women’s fashion chain Karen Millen.

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