‘Debenhams leaves a huge hole’: shoppers and staff react to store closures
The public view on how the demise of the large department stores will affect towns, what went wrong and who was to blame
- Debenhams bows out after 200 years leaving town centres counting the cost
Last modified on Sat 15 May 2021 03.00 EDT
Debenhams may have been far from its heyday for some time, but the closure of its large department stores will still hit towns, cities and shopping malls around the country. By Saturday night, more than 160 Debenhams stores will have closed in the past two years, adding to a smaller number of closures by rivals House of Fraser and John Lewis and the collapse of the 22-strong Beales chain.
Shoppers and staff told the Guardian how they thought the closures would hit their towns, what went wrong and who was to blame.
A shopper in Lincoln: “Debenhams leaves a huge hole in the town centre as so many other stores have also gone. Everywhere looks empty and deserted and the town has no vibrancy any more.”
Debenhams – a 200-year history
Debenhams – a 200-year history
Debenhams closes on Saturday after 200 years. More than 20,000 people have lost their jobs since the group first called in administrators two years ago when it had 166 stores. The brand has now been bought by the Boohoo group, but will only trade online.
Debenhams traces its roots back to 1778 when William Clark opened a drapers shop on Wigmore Street in London. It was renamed Clark & Debenham in 1813 when Suffolk businessman William Debenham invested.
In 1928 Debenhams became a listed company. It expended rapidly, to 100 stores by 1950.
* Debenhams was bought in 1985 by the Burton Group which also included brands such as Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
* Debenhams split from Burton and relisted on the London Stock Exchange in 1998. It had developed its Designers at Debenhams own labels, with fashion ranges from names such as John Rocha and Jasper Conran.
* Debenhams was sold in 2003 to private equity groups CVC Capital Partners, Texas Pacific Group and Merrill Lynch. Together the trio invested £600m in the purchase.
*When the business was refloated on the stock market three years later the investors made £1.2bn. However, the group was now saddled with £1bn of debt and had sold the freehold on many stores, which were now locked into expensive and lengthy lease deals.
* Debenhams was burdened with debt, slow to invest in online shopping and in updating its stores.
* In 2019, after an acrimonious four-year battle for control for Debenhams with its lenders, the group collapsed into administration.
* Only a year later, despite a rescue restructure and the closure of 20 stores, Debenhams collapsed again.
* The group headed into liquidation in December 2020. Boohoo bought the brand in January.
Bohemund Greene, a 19-year-old student in Bournemouth: “Sadly, it’s just another symbol of decline, seeing the amount of shops just closing down with no business able to take its place is just very sad to see. With the loss of Beales as well a couple of years ago, getting nice-looking clothes is simply going to be a little more difficult.”
A shopper in Mansfield: “It’s sad to be losing a stalwart of the high street. Growing up, Debenhams was an aspirational ‘posh’ store.” He said the closure of the store would “decimate” the local mall: “It used to be thriving with a real buzz about the place on a weekend. It’s now so empty, it’s sad.”
Former employee Lawrence New: “It’s [Debenhams’ closure] very sad but was on the cards for many years. I believe every person from store manager above should hang their heads in shame. For years nothing was done, just collecting wages and not fighting the massive issues.
“The pandemic was the final nail, but all the cutbacks, lessening of quality and how the structure had gone pear-shaped, were the main reasons for the closures.”
Ashley Mortimore in Brighton: “Every time I ventured in, I wished I hadn’t. They never seemed to have much for people like me and what they did have was pricey and not good value. It felt like stepping back a couple of decades. Going to Debs reminded me of being dragged around C&A by mum when I was younger.”
A shopper in Chelmsford: “It’s so sad. Its been around for such a long time and seen out so many challenges, it’s tragic it couldn’t keep up with the changes in this era. It’s going to leave such a hole. We still haven’t filled BHS. There is life in other areas of the city centre, but it’s just going to add to the empty shops. We need a complete rethink on how town centres can still be used and still thrive.”
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