AN UNDER-FIRE boss has hit back at criticisms that more could have been done to save Chesterfield’s Co-op department store from closure.
Heartbroken residents argued the store, on Elder Way, had failed to keep up with retail changes including new fashions and on-line trading and Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins felt an earlier warning about its plight may have attracted more customers to keep it open.
But chief executive Martyn Cheatle, of Midlands Co-operative Society, insists all options to improve the business were considered and a decision had to be made to close the store with eight similar ones in the region in the next six months to protect the company’s successful businesses including food and funerals.
Mr Cheatle said: “The decision has been an enormously difficult one particularly as we’re very conscious of the impact that will have on communities and employees. The Society would not have taken this decision without fully exploring all options to improve the business.”
The closure of the Chesterfield branch is expected at the end of July with 117 store and warehouse jobs at risk but the store’s food department will continue.
The business had been closely examined, according to Mr Cheatle, including range, layout, pricing, promotional activity and marketing with new strategies and investments but losses increased and the planned closures were announced earlier this month.
Mr Cheatle, who is aware of the Chesterfield store’s historical significance and an online petition to save it, blamed retail changes and online shopping.
He added: “We now have a duty to act in the best interests of our members, shoppers and employees to protect the future of our other successful businesses.”
The Society is holding meetings with affected staff and is investigating what might be done to ensure the store space is not left vacant.
He added: “The store are being fully and openly marketed with a specific emphasis on targeting developers and property companies that represent the larger retail space operators.”
Chesterfield Borough Council leader John Burrows revealed at a business conference at Ringwood Hall Hotel, on Thursday, January 31, efforts were being made to make sure the store area would still be included in the town’s Northern Gateway shopping development plan.
He said: “It’s a concern in a town with 96per cent shop occupancy but it’s an opportunity as well. We’ve arranged to meet with the Co-op and the opportunity will come in respect of the need to look at locations for the Northern Gateway. We may have to re-group on these plans to include this building in the centre of Chesterfield.”