The Debenhams stores sat empty in the middle of Welsh cities for a whole year with no ideas how to fill them

Shopping units in Wales’ three largest cities – a year after Debenhams closed its stores for the final time. The retail giant closed its doors in Newport’s Friars Walk Shopping Center on May 4 last year, and did the same 11 days later on May 15 in Cardiff’s St David’s Shopping Center and at the Quadrant in the heart of Swansea.

The department store, which had been trading for 242 years, would cease trading. To get the latest WalesOnline newsletters e-mailed to you directly for free, click here.

In January 2021 the firm was sold to online retailer Boohoo in a £ 55m deal, but that still results in the closure of all its stores and the loss of thousands of jobs. As well as the tremor the collapse of Debenhams caused in the job market and on the high street itself, what has become of the large units left empty by the company collapse?

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In Cardiff, Debenhams was a major feature of the city’s shopping landscape for generations, and was an anchor store at St David’s Shopping Center along with Boots, M&S and Primark. The store itself was packed with three storeys full of stock and occupied a total of 65,000 sq ft of space. But now, exactly one year after closing its doors for the last time, the store remains empty.

In January, the shopping center said that it would update shoppers “, but there are no details of what could potentially occupy the huge space in the middle of the Welsh capital. Cardiff Council has not answered any questions about the site, but it does not have any problems with the owners of the building. 2022.

A sad sight: inside the Debenhams store in Cardiff days before it shut for good last May

Carmarthen. Wales’ oldest town was a huge blow last May when its own Debenhams store shut because it was not only the largest shop in town but the whole regeneration project had been based around. When St Catherine’s Walk Shopping Center opened to much fanfare in 2010, it did so much of its hopes around the neck of Debenhams, a sprawling two-storey store in the mall’s prime spot.

Since being empty, the unit has, more than one occasion, been used for pop-up shops, offering local and independent businesses the opportunity to showcase their produce in a high street environment. You can read more about that here.

Furthermore, there are plans afoot to transform the unit, which was also the hub for delivering local health, welfare, learning and cultural services all under one roof. While it may be disappointing to some that the site is still in the early stages of development, it is expected that the creation of a state-of-the-art leisure, culture, and exhibition spaces alongside health and educational facilities, together with tourist information, customer services and more.

In Newport, Debenhams was the anchor store of Friars Walk when the shopping center opened in 2015. With other parts of Wales, Newport city center has been hit by closure, for the unit ”, offering hope that something could be in the pipeline. However, as the case remains in Cardiff, the unit has remained empty. This week, the center was pushed once more on what the future holds for the unit, and Simon Pullen, center director at Friars Walk, offered fresh hope that some positive news could be imminent.

Debenhams in Newport on the store’s last ever day of trading – May 4, 2021

“We are currently looking at a number of potential options for the ex-Debenhams store”, said Mr Pullen. “Clearly the unit is not significant, but it is a very bespoke and complex unit. We are, however, committed to filling the unit as soon as possible, allowing for this space. ”

West of Newport and Cardiff along the M4 corridor and you’ll find that Swansea has also been hit by the closure of shops in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Debenhams had been seen by many people in the city’s shopping scene for more than 40 years, having opened at the Quadrant Shopping Center in 1978. That was, of course, until last May.

While Swansea Council does not own the unit, it has said that they “recognize the importance of this retail site and continue to explore options to bring it back into use”. The shopping center as a whole appears to be fierce than others, despite the continuing uncertainty surrounding the former Debenhams store. According to operations manager Lindy Emms.

“The closure of Debenhams was a huge loss to the Quadrant and the UK high street,” she said. “However, footfall within the center has remained stable with many retailers outperforming targets. While we lost Debenhams in 2021, we have several new retailers that offer our new and exciting reasons to visit, from Rugby Heaven and Moti.

“We have even experienced heavy investment in existing stores, most notably jewelery-giant, Ernest Jones, whose branch was the first new concept store in Wales; We have also seen the arrival of many local pop-up stores through the Pop-Up Wales initiative, where we can offer support from our Dementia Hub and the Swansea Pride pop- up alone.

The Swansea store has now been empty exactly a year

Retail expert Laura James, whose business is managed by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, fill such spaces as are needed for sustainable cities and high streets.

“The development and advancement of online shopping has certainly caused a shift in consumer behavior and has indeed demanded that high street retailers re-think their offering,” she said. “A failure to foresee and adapt to this online shopping behavior has undoubtedly had an impact on those who have struggled to adapt, with the shift to online shopping being accelerated by Covid.

“This must not be confused, however, with the death of the high street – we are far from this. Carmarthen Debenhams in partnership with others has been a great source of inspiration for shopping.

“Online shopping will continue to grow, but it will not necessarily be the case anymore. . ”

Mrs James also thinks that she has innovative and simple ideas – she can play a key role in bringing shoppers back to the streets in the wake of Covid-19 and the effect it has on the city April 2020.

“Just like any other sector, the high street has changed and it can be advantageous to consumers too,” she said. “The high street is our community – a place to shop, to meet friends for coffee, to work and to engage with community projects. Some people will need a degree of enticement and this can already be seen in a number of city centers. The best thing we can do to help our high street is to continue to shop locally and allow it time to grow and flourish. ”

Mrs James firmly believes that the glory days of the high street are not a thing of the past. On the contrary, the future can be a positive one for the city and town retail market center, although it will never look quite the same as it once did.

“We will continue to see the community coming together and we will be able to do so,” she added. “We will see the partnerships between local authorities, educators and local communities working together to empower individuals and drive forward success – listening and adapting to creating the bustling high street that will be the new glory days.”

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