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Last Debenhams stores close their doors

The last remaining Debenhams are closing their doors on Saturday, more than 240 years after the department store began trading.

Shoppers have flocked to the last remaining outlets to pick up bargains in closing-down sales.

But the last 28 stores will now be shuttered for good.

The Debenhams brand will continue to trade online after it was bought by the fashion retailer Boohoo for £55m in January.

At its height, there were more than 150 Debenhams stores across the UK, but the chain went into administration in 2019 after several years of falling sales.

The pandemic was the final blow.

In December, its owners announced the business was being wound down with 12,000 job losses.

After lockdown, 97 stores reopened to allow the last stock to be cleared, and they have gradually been closed over the last two weeks.

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The last outlets have been plastered with sale signs, offering a mish-mash of items, from bikinis to cafetieres, at bargain basement prices.

Debenhams shop with sales signs

Debenhams was an anchor store, especially in many mid-sized town centres, such as Mansfield, where it opened its shopping centre-based site in 1976.

Shelves were empty in the cosmetic department this week, while boxes of left-over coat hangers were free to anyone who wanted them.

But as the shop entered its final few days of trading, there were more customers than there had been for some time, said shop staff.

They recalled that in its early days, the store sold a huge range of goods, from loft ladders to greenhouses.

“It was so thriving in the 1970s and 80s. On a Friday afternoon, it was really buzzing with the girls from the factory,” said Glenis Thompson.

Its closure would leave “a big big hole in the town”, said Julie Howe, another former Debenhams worker.

“It isn’t all about online and Covid. The company lost its way, which is very sad,” she added.

A watercolour postcard of a Debenhams department store in 1905
A postcard showing Debenham & Freebody department store in London, circa 1905

Debenhams traces its roots back to 1778 when William Clark opened a shop in London’s West End, selling fabrics, bonnets and parasols.

By the 1950s, it was the biggest department store in the UK with 110 sites.

However, in recent years, the shift to online shopping ate into sales and the business floundered.

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It was put up for sale last year, but in the end, the brand will survive online as part of the internet-only fashion firm Boohoo.

www.bbc.co.uk

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