Home Kent News We visited Gravesend’s doomed Debenhams and it was a depressing experience

We visited Gravesend’s doomed Debenhams and it was a depressing experience

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Original article from Kent Live

Debenhams has been a fixture of the British high street for decades, alongside department store rivals M&S, John Lewis and House of Fraser.

However, as of this May, it will be going the way of BHS, as the few remaining stores across the country close their doors for the first time.

Though a handful of Debenhams outlets did reopen as non-essential retail was allowed to resume trading on 17 April, this was merely a last hurrah to clear out what little stock was left, and all Debenhams stores are set to be fully closed by mid-May.

It is rare that such a commercial titan falls in the way that Debenhams has, with Woolworths and BHS the only major casualties in recent memory.

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However, the iconic high-street brand will be succeeded by the company's online store that has been bought by Boohoo.

It is unclear however how many of Debenhams' 12,000 employees will continue into the new online era of the store.

Ahead of it's closure, we headed down to Debenhams in Gravesend to see just what was left of the clothes store, and it is genuinely surprising to see what this has all come to.

Though on first impressions the store didn't look too gloomy, it was immediately obvious that shelves were by no means at their usual fullest.

Racks were half-empty, if there were any clothes left at all.

This isn't all that shocking – as the purpose of the stores reopening was to clear stock – but heading deeper into the outlet proved just how little was left.

Entire display racks were entirely empty, and though clothes had been spaced to make the shop feel less abandoned, it did little to compensate for the obvious lack of items on offer.

In fact, parts of the shop had been essentially barricaded off with empty racks and shelves, meaning a good quarter of the shop was completely inaccessible.

The Debenhams shop floor was barren, with empty shelves cordoning off the back portion of the store.

The extent of the clear out was typified by the periodic placement of 'Free coat hangers – please take', placed on walls and by empty racks, signalling that this really was the end for the retailer.

Discounts were there to be had – some going as high as 70 to 80% – but there wasn't the usual variety to say the least.

It was, however, surprisingly busy on a weekday mid-afternoon, and though there was no queue outside, it was not the totally barren shop floor you might expect.

Debenhams were giving away free coathangers, an indication that this is very much the end for their physical stores.

There was still a positive energy from the staff – a woman counting entries on the door still smiling and joking with her colleagues in the latter stages of their final week.

In spite of this, the overwhelming feeling of the experience was that of a pale, almost bland, and whimpering end.

There was no display, no real push to make it feel an almost celebratory end to a staple of the high street – just half stocked shelves and customers picking at what was left.

In a weird way, it almost felt like I was intruding by being there, leaving empty handed as there just wasn't really anything for me to buy.

Never a regular customer myself, it felt odd to wander around just see this part of retail shopping up and down the country breathe it's last breaths felt wrong.

Shelves and displays were left totally empty in the Gravesend branch

This wasn't out of a misplaced sense of empathy for a clothes store, but for the staff who had worked there and desperately tried to keep the doors open whilst their livelihoods were frittered away by structural mismanagement.

Maybe it is Debenham's time to go, a relic of a pre-internet era that will survive in name online.

But walking back to the car to drive home and seeing a still-empty BHS, closed since 2016, only a few units down the road, it gave pause to think about what the shell of this Debenhams would become.

Only time will tell what will happen to Debenhams' former workers and empty shop floors.

I am left with the strong, sinking feeling that it won't take too long before this happens again, to another shop and to another set of employees, left to turn out the lights.

Original Article