‘Save Our Store’ plea from Ipswich to Debenhams bosses

Debenhams in Ipswich Picture: NEIL PERRY

Debenhams in Ipswich Picture: NEIL PERRY - Credit: Archant

A rallying cry has been made to save Ipswich’s Debenhams store from closure after the company revealed plans to shut up shop in several places across the country,

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere has written to bosses of the beleagured firm, which is considering closing 50 of its 166 stores nationwide.

His intervention comes after it was revealed the retailer posted losses of £491m in the year to September 1.

The stores to be closed have not yet been identified.

The company’s chief executive Sergio Bucher said: “We are taking tough decisions on stores where financial performance is likely to deteriorate over time.”

The company has stores in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and at Colchester and Chelmsford in Essex. In Ipswich and Bury, they are the largest stores in those town centres.

Within the Ipswich business community there are hopes that the town’s store on the Cornhill should be able to survive the current storm.

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It is the only traditional department store left in the town – and the company signed a new 125-year lease on its premises in 2013 which was hailed as a guarantee that it would stay in Ipswich.

Also it is understood that the store is one of the more profitable individual units across the country. It employs 500 people in its store (300 directly and 200 with concessions in the building) and the numbers can go up to 600-650 at busy times of the year.

Mr Ellesmere said it was vital that the store remained open – especially after the redevelopment of the Cornhill which should fully reopen with a few days.

He said: “Debenhams and Marks and Spencer are really vital for the future prosperity of our town centre. We are hopeful that the reports that the Ipswich stores are profitable are true.

“But we have written to Debenhams management so they are aware just how important the store here is to the local economy – we will do all we can to support it.”

The local Debenhams management has been supportive of the Cornhill redevelopment – but it remains unclear when a decision on the store’s future will be made.

The Bury St Edmunds store opened 10 years ago along with the rest of the Arc centre – and appears to be a major draw for shoppers – and Colchester’s Debenhams is one of largest stores in the town competing with Fenwicks.

Why is Debenhams in trouble?

The popular narrative is that the company hasn’t been able to compete with online businesses like Amazon, ASOS, and others which can offer keen prices without the need for expensive shop windows.

There’s truth in that – but the whole department store sector is struggling except really high-end stores like Selfridges and Harrods in London.

The problem faced by department stores is that they seek to be “Jack of All Trades” and aiming at the middle-market in the clothes business while people are increasingly looking for cheap, disposable clothes – or high-end garments that they’ll keep for years.

Debenhams isn’t the only department store chain in trouble. We lost Allders a decade ago and this year House of Fraser went into administration before being saved in a controversial buy-out by Mike Ashley.

By definition Department Stores aren’t just about clothes. But these do make up a large amount of their floorspace. They still have loyal customers (I love their Maine and Mantaray ranges) but those of us who shop there are no longer the bright young things that we once were!

Their other departments have contracted and re-invented themselves. The department store foodhall has disappeared from most – and only John Lewis still has electronics sections.

And like clothing, department stores have found their household sections come under pressure from cheaper stores like The Range, B&M or Wilko’s.

Many will hope that department stores survive. The £35 pair of trousers/jeans and £30 sweatshirt is still a staple of many wardrobes!