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Opinion: Debenhams loss is hard to bear for King's Lynn

The demise of Debenhams department store in Kings Lynn, was not just the closure of another store in the town centre.

It marked the end of an era in the town’s retailing world and a lose of one of Lynn’s last remaining traditional department stores, that has seen Royal patronage.

Debenhams was an integral part of the once flourishing High Street which had included many familiar family trading names such as, Le Grice Bros, Rivett’s, Goddards, Ladymans and Scott and Son.

Debenhams is a loss for the town, says Richard Parr
Debenhams is a loss for the town, says Richard Parr

Debenhams in its prominent location at the southern end of the High Street, closed, together with all the other town’s retailers, at the start of the pandemic in March this year.

The Debenham’s chain had been having trading problems, for some time, and some observers were surprised the Lynn store had continued trading for as long as it did.

The large store now stands as a sad shadow of its former self. It’s once elegantly and smartly dressed window displays, now stripped bare, its entire stock being removed almost overnight, leaving the large plate windows looking soulless.

Queen Mary
Queen Mary

As a child, growing up in Lynn in the late 1950s and 60s, I personally have fond memories of dear old Debenhams, visiting the store with my late Mother Jenny.

Mum loved shopping at Debenham’s and it was her first choice of retailer in 1974, to purchase a lounge carpet and curtains for the new bungalow, my Dad, Ken, had helped build in Gaywood.

Back in the day, the store had varies departments - ladiesware, cosmetics, bridal and lingerie and mensware, homeware and carpets.

On its first floor there was a coffee shop which was always a popular rendezvous for shoppers to take a refreshing break.

Former Debenhams staff dressed as superheroes for Help for Heroes in King's Lynn. Darren Fox with Katie Winter, Maria English, Kelly Saunders, Sarah Fountain and Denise Franklin. Lynn News archive image
Former Debenhams staff dressed as superheroes for Help for Heroes in King's Lynn. Darren Fox with Katie Winter, Maria English, Kelly Saunders, Sarah Fountain and Denise Franklin. Lynn News archive image

However, it was the autumn season when the store really came into its own in the run up to the busy pre-Christmas shopping period.From early October it would begin to take on a fabulous festive look as it attracted festive shoppers.

It would become transformed with pretty sparking decorations, both in store and in its very creative window displays, often decked out in red, gold and green, giving a festive flavour to that part of the High Street.

For children at that time of the year, no trip to Debenhams was complete without a visit to see Santa, resplendent in his grotto, to leave your Christmas wish list and the obligatory photo to record the event.I still have mine in the family album!

Debenhams always reflected the changing seasons, not just at Christmas, but also at other times of the year.

The January sale was always a big attraction to shoppers, often creating an early morning queue outside, to snap up the “Doorbuster” best bargains.

The spring season saw new fashions on display and the advent of Summer saw displays of holiday necessities including smart suitcases and beach wear.

There was always a fondness among King’s Lynn shoppers for Debenhams.It’s closure means there is now only a few remaining, such as Marks and Spencer, that could be described as department stores.

Before it became known as Debenham’s, with stores nationwide, it was known as Jermyns.

It is also not widely known that it was patronised on several occasions, by Queen Mary, who would visit the store during her stays at Sandringham House.

The impact of the store’s closure, should not be underestimated.

Already there are rumours, circulating in the town that the large site could never be used for retailing again.

Some people have said it could be demolished and houses and flats built.

Fellow High Street trader Artertons’, the furniture and bedding specialists,spoke of their “dismay” at its closure, after the company said, back in April, that it wouldn’t be in the company’s current closure list.

“However, nobody had factored in the Corona Pandemic, which has killed off many other stores”

Mrs Arterton said ”Sadly Debenhams had been in financial difficulties for several years.”She added:”I for one, shall miss popping over to the store for various purchases, such as birthday and Christmas gifts, make-up, household goods.

Mrs Arterton said “The old store could be divided up into retail units, for self-employed people who could pay a reasonable rent and there would be still be enough room for an indoor market”.

She was aware that this new use may not be what the Landlord wants and it could possibly remain empty for a long time or perhaps turned into new town centre apartments.

She felt that if it did happen, it would be a “great shame” as the Saturday Market Place has been greatly enhanced in more recent times and several new businesses have been opened in St James Street, close to the southern end of the High Street.

A spokesman for Deck of Cards, also opposite the old Debenhams, spoke of its concern that the impact of its closure would have on the trading liability of that part of the High Street.’

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