Original article from Kent Live
The Ashford and Tunbridge Wells stores in Kent will close due to declining sales as nearly 1,500 jobs are put at risk across the country.
The loss of John is another hammer blow for Ashford – a town which has seen Debenhams and Marks and Spencer also leave the town in recent years.
While the Ashford Designer Outlet continues to prove popular, the high street and surrounding areas will now have to recover from the blow of losing another major retailer.
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Ashford is just half-an-hour away from London and sits on the Eurostar line to the continent – a perfect location for attracting visitors.
With the international station just a stone's throw from the main shopping arcade in town, there appears to be so much potential for a thriving town centre.
However, with the John Lewis At Home store closing at the north west side of the town, many shoppers fear for the future of the town, especially with the pressures brought on by the pandemic.
Fans of John Lewis will now have to head to Bluewater if they want to shop in person at a store.
KentLive went out into Ashford high street to get reactions from locals about yesterday's shock news.
Lynne and Paul Evans have been living in Ashford since 1972 and regularly shopped at John Lewis.
The couple were so disappointed at the decision to close the store that they sent them a letter asking them to rethink their decision.
Lynne said: "I sent them a letter saying I was very disappointed and dismayed they were closing. I said to them, have you taken any notice of how Ashford is developing and the amount of apartments and houses being built."
Lynne, who worked at John Lewis in Oxford Street in the 1960s for a short period, had sympathy for those who would have their jobs affected by the decision.
She said: “I was there for about six or seven months. They were good employers and they have a good loyal staff and it is a shame for those people who have lost their jobs.
With John Lewis moving out of the town, the couple fear for the future of Ashford high street and surrounding areas.
Paul added: “It’s a very sad high street. If you want your nails done your fine – but we need shops that will bring people in to Ashford. Folkestone was a very good shopping area and then M&S and Debenhams left and you can see what is happening there.
“We’ve got one shoe shop and if you want to buy anything good quality in Ashford it is being chipped away. When we moved it was a small market town – we need to get spirit back in the town.
Further along the high street we spoke to Paul Houselander, a bus driver who has lived in the town his whole life.
The 47-year-old admitted he was concerned about what impact losing a big name store like John Lewis would have on the town.
He told KentLive: “It was a surprise I have to say but I never went there. John Lewis would have generated people to come in just by the name, it is very well respected around the country. If you’ve got a John Lewis you’ve made it.
It’s been a tough year for all retail with the ‘non-essential’ shops being hit hard by the pandemic.
Shops have been closed since the middle of December and are not due to open for another couple of weeks, when they’ll have to abide by strict social distancing guidelines.
Paul added: “ After the pandemic and even before it things were on the decline here. I still come here rather than the outlet because there is nothing at the outlet for me. I still hope there is a future for the high street, I really do.”
Nobody knows a town better than a postman and even though Ian Daniels didn’t consider himself a John Lewis shopper he did have concerns about the high street.
The 56-year-old postie said: “I’ve lived here for 40 odd years. John Lewis isn’t my sort of shop but it was good for the town. I went to Margate and Dover last year and they were bad – this did seem to be better off but you have shops here that’ll probably never open again so we don’t know.”
The Ashford Designer Outlet isn’t too far from town and is home to 70 designer stores as well an abundance of food and drink options.
It certainly appeals to a younger generation of shoppers – those looking for the best brands at a bargain price.
Finally, we spoke to friends Binnie and Dawn, who met when working at Marks and Spencer in town.
The pair were enjoying a socially distanced coffee and were in a reflective mood.
Dawn said: “Before we had the lockdown we heard rumours so it wasn’t a complete surprise. The store was appealing to people both in the town and outside the town.
“I think we need stuff in the high street – the town needs stuff as well. Because at the moment we just have pound shops, banks and basic necessities.”
A statement on the door of John Lewis in Ashford said: “As we all know, shopping habits are changing and we are having to make difficult decisions in response to these changes. Despite the drive and determination of our Partners.”
“Some of our shops were financially challenged prior to the pandemic and unfortunately we can no longer profitability sustain our larger John Lewis stores in some locations.”