HEARTBROKEN residents fear the planned closure of Chesterfield’s Co-op Fashion and Home department store, with the potential loss of other troubled big name stores, could turn one of the county’s biggest shopping capitals into a ‘ghost town’.
Midlands Co-operative Society announced plans on Monday to close the store on Elder Way and its warehouse with eight other similar ones across the region, after it admitted struggling to adapt to retail changes and online shopping.
And with other big names in Chesterfield going to the wall, including music and movie retailer HMV and rental giants Blockbuster in administration, along with Jessops photography closing, people are concerned shoppers may go elsewhere.
Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council Cllr John Burrows said he was saddened by the closure, but pointed out the town was one of the best in country for shop occupancy rates.
He also pointed towards the town’s recent success stories, and insisted there were more reasons to be positive in Chesterfield than most other town’s in the country.
Glennis Danniell, 72, of Newbold, said: “I feel sad. With stores closing it looks like supermarkets are taking over. It’s not nice seeing empty shops and people might have to look elsewhere for shopping and Chesterfield could become just another ghost town.”
The closure of nine Fashion and Home stores means 114 workers at the Chesterfield branch could lose their jobs along with three more at its warehouse, but the society is making efforts to redeploy all affected 388 store employees and is in talks with unions.
Midlands Co-operative Society chief executive Martyn Cheatle said: “Whilst our other businesses have flourished the Society has been incurring substantial losses from the Fashion and Home operation for more than a decade.”
He explained closures will come in over six months and the Society is boasting a new food store programme and its Chesterfield food store will continue to trade. Chesterfield Borough Council leader John Burrows is also confident the new Debenhams, the Range and TK Maxx stores and Northern Gateway plans will support the town.
GENERATIONS of shocked residents feel the closure of Chesterfield’s long-serving Fashion and Home store marks the end of an era.
Norman Fantom, 71, of Newbold, said: “It will be shocking to see it go. It’s a great shame. We’ve often bought furniture and clothing here but I think it may have suffered with the arrival of the new Debenhams store and because supermarkets are so cheap.
“I suspect the rates won’t be favourable and I will be very interested to see who can afford to take on the site.”
John Booker, 80, of Calow, said: “I’m amazed. We won’t be able to come to Chesterfield soon because there won’t be any shops open.
“When you think of the Co-op you think of a family store who looks after the customer. We’ve shopped in every department over the years.”
Angela Quirke, of Whittington, said: “I’ve lived here 58 years and it’s always been here for as long as I can remember.
“When my sister comes back to visit from Majorca we come to the store for a shot of nostalgia. It’s very sad.”
Harry Newman, 85, of Ashgate, Chesterfield, said: “It’s been a very handy store over the years but its closure is part of an overall sad state of affairs with everything at the moment.
“In some ways it’s worse when town centre shops go because all the trade goes to the supermarkets who monopolise the situation and their prices will go up.”
Tony and Carol Harrott, of Walton, both worked for the Co-op and were upset to learn the store is shutting.
Mrs Harrott said: “We’ve got fond memories. It’s a great shame that traditional places are being squeezed out. Customers used to come from as far away as Newcastle for the store’s bridal service but those days are over.”
CHESTERFIELD Borough Council leader John Burrows, Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins and NE Derbyshire MP Natascha Engel are also rallying with support for Chesterfield.
Cllr John Burrows, Chesterfield Borough Council’s leader and executive member for regeneration said: “This is very sad news for Chesterfield. The Midlands Co-operative department store has been a mainstay of the town’s shopping offer. We are disappointed that the society has taken this decision given its many loyal customers in Chesterfield and long association with the town, but understand it is to do with the future retail strategy of the society rather than the economic position of Chesterfield itself.
“I am confident Chesterfield can recover from this. It remains one of the top centres in the country in terms of occupancy, with only eight per cent of its shop units empty compared to a national average of 14-15 per cent. We continue to attract new stores including Debenhams and the Range last year and TK Maxx later this year. Chesterfield Borough Council is working hard to deliver further improvements to the town centre including the Market Hall refurbishment, due to open in the autumn, and the Northern Gateway scheme.
“We will of course be working with the Midlands Co-operative to offer whatever help we can to staff to find alternative employment and to ensure the store is occupied by new operators as soon as possible.”
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins has expressed dismay that the Town’s historic Co-operative Department Store is earmarked for closure.
The Midlands Co-operative Society have stated they took the difficult decision – which threatens 388 jobs and nine stores across the region – due increasing losses in its Fashion and Home operations.
Midlands Co-op Chief Executive Martyn Cheatle said: “Whilst our other businesses have flourished, the Society has been incurring substantial losses from the Fashion and Home operation and, in spite of sustained efforts to improve performance the latest financial projections indicate a further decline with increasing losses in future years.
“Unfortunately, efforts to sell the business as a going concern have proved unsuccessful and, after much consideration, it is with great regret that the Board of Directors has taken this very difficult decision to close the Fashion and Home business.”
Commenting on the closure, Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins said: “This news is a massive hit for Chesterfield. The Co-op has been a much-loved stalwart of the Chesterfield high street for generations with many local people being stakeholders in its prosperity through its excellent membership scheme.
“The Co-op, and other household names such as Comet and Jessops which have gone bust in recent weeks, are victims of the government’s continued appalling failure to get growth back into our economy.
Mr Perkins added: “I’m now scheduling talks with management and other stakeholders to discern how I can support the firm and workforce.”
Mr Perkins hopes to meet with Co-op bosses and staff today, Thursday, January 24, to help support any transition and job support for vulnerable staff.
He added: “This comes during the slowest recovery from a recession in our history and sadly the Co-op department store will probably not be the last store to go.
“There will be a considerable hole in the town and it’s for all of us to work with the council to come up with a solution because Chesterfield has been bucking the trend.
“There has been a positive sense of offer with new stores coming here but this is a setback and we need to see if anything can be salvaged from the situation.”
MP for North East Derbyshire Natascha Engel has expressed her sadness at the news that Chesterfield Cooperative Department Store on Elder Way has been earmarked for closure.
Ms Engel said: “This will be a difficult time for staff employed at the store and a little more history will disappear from the streets of Chesterfield. This decision is a clear reminder that a lot needs to be done to restore health to our High Streets and town centres. The Government needs to look seriously at the big names that have been lost in recent weeks and take action to address the crisis on our High Streets.”
Derbyshire Times reader Sandra Atkins also stated on the DT Facebook site: “Unfortunately there’s so many retailers not only on our town but across the UK struggling at the moment but this is another blow for the town centre, then there’s also HMV.
“It’s a sad sign of the times when many retailers are being replaced by pound and charity shops. Are the council looking at helping retail with competitive lease rents. Is there anything it can do for new business start-ups?”
Those interested in sharing their views, memories and pictures of the Co-op department store can visit the DT’s Facebook site or send details to firstname.lastname@example.org.