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Ashley And Aziz In Court Row Over Lillywhites Department Store Rent

Lillywhites at Piccadilly Circus

Property investor Asif Aziz has lodged a claim in the High Court against a retail brand owned by Mike Ashley over unpaid rent at one of the UK’s most famous retail sites. 

A company controlled by Aziz, Criterion Buildings, has lodged a claim against Lillywhites over unpaid rent at the sports retailer’s department store at Piccadilly Circus in the West EndEstates Gazette reported. 

The claim brings together two business personalities who have been in the headlines during the coronavirus pandemic in relation to rents and the future of retail. 

The landlord filed a claim for £3.3M in unpaid rent after payments were missed in March, June and September, Estates Gazette said. 

Lillywhites said in legal papers that it had been unable to use the store after being forced to close due to pandemic lockdown rules in March. Criterion argued back that it had been open since June. 

Government regulations introduced at the beginning of the pandemic mean landlords can’t evict tenants for unpaid rent, but they can still use the court system to pursue them. 

Lillywhites, once known as the Harrods of sport, has occupied the site at 25 Regent Street on Piccadilly Circus since 1925. The company was started in 1863 by the Lillywhite family, cricket players who set up a shop selling cigars and cricket goods. 

The company expanded its range and produced one of the first footballs used in professional matches by the Football Association and one of the first American footballs used by the Ivy League in college games. The rules of early iterations of the Wimbledon tennis championships said competitors had to buy their shorts there.

The company had several owners in the latter part of the 20th century. The firm went into financial difficulties and in 2002 was acquired by Ashley’s Sports Direct.

Discussions between Ashely and Aziz over rent at the store predate the pandemic. In December last year it was reported that Sports Direct had put the lease on the market after rent review talks with Criterion. 

Aziz faced public criticism in the early part of the pandemic when his companies pursued retail and restaurant tenants for full rent even though their income had been affected by lockdown restrictions. His company, Criterion Capital, is a significant property owner around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. He is undertaking a major redevelopment of the Trocadero building just off Leicester Square.