What is the future for Romford's former Debenhams store?
- Credit: Savills/Jon Paul Ladd
Debenhams in Romford was one of the well-known department chain's last stores to close its doors for the final time last weekend.
The unit, which is in Market Place and was also part of the Liberty Shopping Centre, is one of the town's biggest.
With the Debenhams brand now moving online only after its purchase by Boohoo, what is the future for the empty Romford store?
Julie Frost, director of Romford Business Improvement District (BID), said it is vital the building is put to use.
"I think it is really crucial that the building doesn’t lay empty for a long period of time, especially with a number of other buildings next to it being empty. Our hope would be that things could move quickly.
"There's massive opportunity, but it's that interim where it's going to be difficult."
She said the BID is looking at seeing what can be done to make the store more appealing, such as brightening up windows.
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According to a Havering Council spokesperson, it is "unlikely" the unit will have one single new occupier.
The Recorder reported in December 2019 that private UK investors Mitul Jay Patel and Rohan Jay Patel of NWT Real Estate had bought the Debenhams building for £12million.
On the company's website, it is included in a list of its projects and described as having "potential for redevelopment to alternative uses".
The Recorder has attempted to make contact with NWT Real Estate but has not been able to get a response.
The council spokesperson said: “The council will be working with the owners of Debenhams looking at possibilities for the site.
"Like elsewhere, with spaces of this size, we’re more likely to see the building used in a number of different ways."
She said the role that town centres play must be redefined.
"They can no longer be just places to shop and bank - but places to entertain, to meet friends, to enjoy a night out or see the latest show at the cinema or theatre.
“It’s always sad to see any business shut up shop, even more so when it’s been such a staple of our town centre for so many years.
"Our sympathy goes out to the hard-working staff who have lost their jobs."
Debenhams took the store over from Stones in 1960, according to Havering Museum, which said Denny Stone opened Romford's first department store in the 1860s.
The town's MP Andrew Rosindell said the Debenhams closure was "a very sad moment" for Romford.
"I am deeply saddened because this Debenhams department store, formerly known as Stones, had been operating for over 100 years. A part of Romford’s history has now vanished forever.
"I have many personal memories of shopping in the store, ever since I was a little boy growing up in Romford and have been shopping there ever since."
Mr Rosindell believes high streets are at "breaking point" and suggested a sales tax for online purchases to offer them a lifeline.
He added: "With restrictions easing, now is the time for businesses to thrive, people to return to work and get our country moving again."
The Romford store was among the final 28 Debenhams stores which shut for the final time on Saturday (May 15).
Independent shops and customers will "feel the loss" of larger shops like these, according to Kyle Monk, director of insights at the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The BRC is a trade association for shops across the country.
Kyle added: “Large retailers play a crucial role as anchor stores in town centres and in attracting customers to the high street."
The Recorder has contacted the Liberty Shopping Centre for comment.
What are your memories of the store and what would you like to see happen to the unit?
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