Hope for Blackburn’s high street despite Debenhams closing for good

THE closure of Debenhams has left a huge hole in Blackburn’s economy ­— but council leaders have said new opportunities could still lie ahead.

The much-loved department store, in The Mall Blackburn, closed on Thursday, two days earlier than planned after selling the last of its stock.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council cabinet member for regeneration Phil Riley said this was the culmination of several long-term trends in the economy that had been exacerbated by the pandemic but local people should not be too dispirited.

He said: “Really it’s a story about the collapse of the high street, about companies that may have overreached themselves and about the rise of companies that trade on the internet.

“My view is I think it’s a temporary phenomenon and people haven’t given up shopping. I think people will come back.”

He added: “I think people will eventually realise that there’s more pleasure to be had in going out to shops and trying things on than in ordering them on the internet, trying them on and then maybe having to send them back again.”

Cllr Riley felt that although the loss of Debenhams left a huge hole in The Mall and in Blackburn’s local economy, this could also create opportunities for new, smaller businesses including many of those that have started up locally.

He said: “I think it’s a moment in time that will pass and one would imagine that once people start thinking about what they are going to do and once then pandemic is over we may see the rise of new start-ups.”

However, the regeneration leader warned more had to be done at national level to support people in these endeavours, particularly when it comes to protecting the interests of traders in physical spaces against those of large multinational corporations.

Cllr Riley said: “There is unfinished business in that the government has to find a way to equalise the rates paid by physical stores and online companies like Amazon that pay very little rates.”

Historic retailer Debenhams, established 243 years ago, announced it was set to close in December last year, with trading hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns.

The Blackburn branch was one of 130 stores across the country to be closed, with around 12,000 jobs lost.

The closures were staggered throughout this year, with The Mall’s store one of 21 to close on May 13 while the final 28 shut the following Saturday.

Debenhams is now owned by online fashion giant Boohoo, which maintains a large distribution centre in Burnley, and will continue to trade online.

USDAW general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Each one of those job losses is a personal tragedy for the individual worker and store closures are scarring our high streets and communities. With online fashion retailer Boohoo buying Debenhams and choosing to close all stores, they are ending nearly 250 years of retailing history and putting in big hole in many town and city centres.”

The Mall Blackburn declined to comment, however general manager Loraine Jones previously described it as a “tragedy for the high street” when plans were first announced last December.

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