Browns branch store has traded from pride of place on Eastgate Road in the northern English city of Chester since 1791, selling fashion, perfumes and afternoon tea to locals and tourists visiting the historic centre.
But the way forward for the imposing columned building is in doubt as its owner, British branch store Debenhams, becomes the newest retailer to go into administration, hamstrung by the pandemic and changing shopping habits.
“It’s heart-breaking,” said native resident Sue Astbury, 53, who manages a chain of charity shops in the region.
Despite the fact that she remembers visiting Browns as a child and the adventure of wandering around the nooks and crannies of the characterful store, she says she rarely goes shopping in Chester on account of the traffic and the price of parking.
“I do a huge amount of my shopping online because you don’t have to worry approximately parking and you’ll be able to try on things in your own time,” she said.
Shoppers have shunned physical stores to keep away from catching Covid-19, even out of doors of official lockdowns, and accelerated a shift to online shopping that used to be underway before the pandemic.
The effects are being felt right through Britain’s high Roads – main shopping drags where people bought everything from groceries to clothes. Many had been on the decline for decades even before the pandemic, struggling to adapt to contemporary times.
A record increase in the number of shuttered shops as Britain’s second wave of virus infections got underway has left Roads and shopping centres pockmarked with empty units.
British retail job losses will rise approximately 65% to 235,704 this year as opposed to final, the Centre for Retail Research predicts. Approximately 25,000 jobs are at risk from the collapse of Debenhams and fashion retailer Arcadia Group combined – more than double the number employed on the country’s fishing fleets.
‘A treasure trove’
Browns of Chester, referred to as the “Harrods of the North” after the luxury London branch store, used to be a must-visit for those visiting the city with its chandeliers, creaking floorboards and maze-like interior. Debenhams took it over in 1976.
“I keep in mind my mum holding my hand tightly as we went around, particularly when it used to be engaged, as it used to be like a maze,” said Samantha Payne, a 45-year-old projects administrator who now lives in nearby Runcorn.
“It used to be just so posh – a treasure trove of such a lot of nice things, from the fragrance and jewellery counters on the ground floor to the bridal wear upstairs,” added Payne, who bought a beige silk bridesmaid dress there 20 years ago.
On a recent morning, the store used to be open but big “Store Closing” and “Everything Should Go” signs hung in its windows.
Retail investor Mike Ashley is in last-minute talks to shop for Debenhams from administrators but has said there’s no certainty that any transaction will take place.
Close Browns is the Grosvenor Shopping Centre with Arcadia Group stores including menswear chains Burton and Topman and women’s fashion stores Dorothy Perkins and Topshop. Arcadia collapsed into administration in November.
Native businesses worry that the closure of these shops – particularly the landmark Browns – will intent even fewer people making the go back and forth into the city centre. Parking at the Grosvenor Shopping Centre costs 7.80 pounds ($10.40) for three hours.
Festooned with lights
“I am concerned for the city centre,” says Ann Faulkner of The Cheese Shop, which has operated out of its small premises with bright blue and white striped awning for almost 40 years.
On a recent morning, the shop used to be doing brisk business ahead of Christmas even with just two customers allowed within the shop at a time. The phone constantly rang with people placing orders.
“Visitors like going to those old-fashioned branch stores,” she added, as regards to Chester’s popularity as a weekend-break destination.
Two lockdowns in England and a shortened Christmas trading period have piled pressure on retailers as they enter the a very powerful holiday season. In England, non-essential shops were allowed to reopen on Dec. 2 for the first time in four weeks.
In Chester, Roads festooned with lights were engaged with masked Christmas shoppers. Despite the fact that shopper traffic in England surged 150% on December 2 from the preceding week as shops re-opened, it used to be still down over a quarter from final year.
Britons were already a few of the biggest online shoppers on the planet pre-Covid-19. UK e-commerce has accelerated this year, and the habits built up over the pandemic are expected to stick.
Online shopping has grown 52.8% since February, according to the newest data from the Office of National Statistics.
In Chester, The Cheese Shop spent around 3,000 pounds to establish an online store in September.
“I don’t think we could have survived this Christmas without the online option,” she said.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)
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