Discount will be available on selected products

No products in the cart.

Stockton-on-Tees rues ‘bloody online’ as Debenhams closes | Business

There’s been a department store in the market town of Stockton-on-Tees for over a century. But the last one closed its doors for the final time on Wednesday when Debenhams pulled down the shutters.

The store is one of 19 being closed across the country by the beleaguered chain this month, and it’s a big blow to Stockton, where New Look is also due to shut down on Saturday and many shoppers still mourn the loss of the Marks & Spencer in 2018.

Geoff Russell, 65, has lived in Stockton all his life and has seen several businesses shut up shop over the years, but Debenhams’ closure is particularly painful. “It’s a shame. It’s an institution, it’s part of Stockton. There will be no turning back from this now.

“I definitely won’t be going to Middlesbrough instead – this is my local. I’ve been going in there a lot of years and I know a lot of staff. We have a good craic with them. It’s a lot of job losses, and what’s out there for people?”

His wife, Janet Russell, said she had been shopping here for 60 years: “We’ve probably got half of Debenhams in our bedroom.”

Geoff Russell

Geoff Russell: ‘I’ve been going in there a lot of years and I know a lot of staff, we have a good craic with them.’ Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

She remembers when the site was home to Robinsons, the first of a small chain of department stores across the north opened by Matthias Robinson. Opening in 1896, the family went on to run similar stores in Hartlepool, Leeds and Darlington, before the chain was sold to Debenhams in 1962.

On Wednesday, the sprawling shop is mostly empty. Large areas are cordoned off with red and white tape, and clothes racks stand in a sea of empty shop floor. But there are queues at the tills, and people are rummaging through the last of the stock for bargains. Puma trainers that had retailed at £98.50 are going for £15; a £45 duvet has been reduced to £18.

Samantha Pye and her mother, Sue Maston, have been coming to the store for the past couple of weeks to pick up bargains. Pye leaves with a coat stand, which was previously part of the shop fittings, for the sum of £10.

Large sheets of paper have been left out for people to write messages. One reads, “End of an era for us, sorry to see it go”, while another says, “Would make a fab Primark to keep Stockton alive.” One simply reads: “Bloody online.”

Sue and Peter Mathieson

Sue and Peter Mathieson: ‘We basically won’t come to Stockton any more.’ Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Sue and Peter Mathieson live in Hartlepool and have been coming to Stockton to shop at Debenhams for around 15 years. “I just think it’s a shame. We basically won’t come to Stockton any more,” says Sue. “We know all the staff. We just wanted to say bye to the girls who we’ve known over the years. I feel so sorry for them all.”

The Debenhams closures this month, expected to result in 660 job losses, are part of a three-year strategy that will see 50 stores shut in total. The company entered administration last year, after struggling to compete with online shopping trends and keep up with rent on its large stores. Similarly, New Look expects to lose 85 stores as part of restructuring plans announced in 2018.

Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, says: “While it is disappointing that we’re losing some big national retailers who have had a very traditional anchor in Stockton, I think what we have to see it as is an opportunity to really reshape the town centre. I don’t think it’s a death knell for the town.”

She points toward the Globe, an art-deco entertainment venue a few doors down from Debenhams, which is undergoing a £4.5m restoration and is due to open in November, as evidence that the town centre is far from dying.

The Debenhams store in Stockton on Tees which closes its doors for the last time today.

The building that has housed Debenhams since the 1960s was originally opened as a Robinsons chain store in 1896. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

She also praised the proactive approach of the council, which in the past year has bought the town’s two main shopping centres, Wellington Square and Castlegate, to take control of the centre and re-create the town in a way that works best for its residents.

Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for regeneration and housing for Stockton Borough Council, said: “Lots of people in Stockton, including my own family, shopped in Debenhams most weeks, so it’s a sad day and I’m thinking of the people who lost their jobs.

“But this model of large, chain-store retail is on its knees. In Stockton we’ve got far too much retail space, so we need to go back to what the high street was 50-60 years ago, where it wasn’t just a place to shop, but a place where people live and work and come for experiences.”

Source link