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XX Notes: Debenhams – Once Iconic But Not Immune

Published on: 30 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 2 Feb, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

Weymouth: sun, sea, sand and… Debenhams. Every summer, until the age of 12, I visited my relatives on the Dorset coast for two weeks of unashamed kiss-me-quick fun.

After checking out the sand sculptures and swingboats, not to mention the donkeys, the next highlight was spending our holiday pocket money in the busy department store.

Weymouth Debenhams, – image Geograph

Coming from Cornwall, Weymouth provided cosmopolitan delights that weren’t available on our local high street: Marks & Spencer had not arrived and our other department stores were more like Grace Brothers than less stuffy Debenhams. Peculiarly, in Weymouth, it wasn’t all under one roof, but a collection of stores spread around the town.

There were toys, clothes, food – nothing really that you couldn’t buy in other shops, but there was a novelty not found elsewhere – maybe it was only that it was a walk-through store and, like Narnia, you were never sure where you’d come out.

The main entrance of the recently closed Guildford Debenhams

Living in Guildford brought me back into regular contact with Debenhams. It was a shop I used to visit a lot. When shopping with a buggy and small children, it was handy to park at Millmead and walk along the flat pavement to a shop with a spacious children’s department, toys and in-house affordable designer range – a proper one-stop shop for harassed families.

Of course, we in Guildford have known for a while that our iconic Debenhams would not be re-opening, following the sale to developers Native Land. But the news this week (ending January 30) that fast fashion brand BooHoo has bought the brand name is the final nail in the coffin for its presence on any high street.

See more Debenhams articles here.

Is anyone surprised? Even pre-Covid, when was the last time you bought something from a Debenhams store? Slightly set away from the centre of our hilly town, unless you park at Millmead, it’s a chore to go to a shop that was rapidly contracting inside – like a reverse TARDIS.

When internet shopping got easier, the children able to walk (and even shop) by themselves, the product the same as several others in Guildford, Debenhams began to lose its shine. In recent times the only reason for us to go through its doors was to pick up an emergency item (mouthguard, trainers, cheap hiking item for Duke of Edinburgh award) from Sports Direct that would take too long to deliver if ordered online.

There wasn’t even the destination shopping experience of other department stores like Anthropology or the central location of House of Fraser. Debenhams was doomed.

Will you miss the riverside restaurant?

Many articles in The Guildford Dragon NEWS have pointed out the iconic building and the well-appointed riverside location. There will be some lovely apartments there (and hopefully some leisure opportunities, GBC please note); but no Sports Direct, no beauty counter for a sneaky free makeover (try the new SpaceNK – post Covid), no last-minute holiday shop and Blue Cross discounts.

And this is the real message. Our familiar high street shops are closing. Coronavirus has only accelerated the trend. Wasn’t it sad when Woolworths closed? But I remember thinking the same then: when I was 13 I used to buy records there. When I was 23 I bought homewares. 33 – kids clothes. 43, nothing, I was always coming out empty-handed. It had become irrelevant.

Think of the shops you value and buy from them, especially if they are local independents. If you don’t use them you’ll lose them – and retailers, don’t take your client base for granted – Amazon is just a click away.

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test One Response to XX Notes: Debenhams – Once Iconic But Not Immune

  1. John Ferns Reply

    January 30, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you, Maria Rayner. This cri de coeur hits all my spots. Very sadly it’s a fact of modern life and trends, which you articulated so well in your conclusion, “Think of the shops you value and buy from them, especially if they are local independents. If you don’t use them you’ll lose them – and retailers, don’t take your client base for granted – Amazon is just a click away.”

    The next step has to be for GOV.UK to find a way to levy the taxation that should be due from all Amazon UK’s UK based warehouses, to replace that which is increasingly being lost from our traditional High Street emporiums, now being swept aside by the likes of Amazon.

    The secret is “in the cloud” but there needs still to be an equal playing field for all to compete on even terms.

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