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News - 15 October 2005

Brighton’s largest department store to close

The Co-op, one of only two department stores in the city, is likley to close in the next 18 months. Its departure will be a setback for the struggling London Road but what does it mean for the rest of the city?

A review of core activities within the Co-operative Group has concluded that the stores in Brighton and Eastbourne are unlikely to perform to the level required and closure is a serious option. The Group’s department stores lost £4m in 2004.

The Brighton store supports 60 full time jobs and, given the weak retail climate at present, it may be difficult for employees to find alternative employment quickly.

Brighton Pavilion Labour and Co-operative MP David Lepper has stepped in to try and rescue the store. David Lepper says, “It is clear from the talks I have already had that this decision, which could see our main Co-op store close by February 2007, has nothing to do with our local economy in the city or local policies.

“But I am concerned about the jobs of the 61 directly employed staff and the impact this closure could have on London Road. Talks are underway with Anglian Co-operative Society about buying the store and I will be doing all I can to support that plan. “If that fails then I will be working with the Learning and Skills Council and City Council’s economic development officers to help find jobs for staff and to find an alternative use for this important site which helps London Road and brings jobs"

BUSINESS FORUM COMMENT

The future of London Road has been in a state of flux for over a decade. While relatively recent arrivals like Richer Sounds and the Software Warehouse have been successful selling products at a price that means the consumer will seek them out, longer established retailers like the Co-op have struggled to come to terms both with the changing nature of retail and the changing nature of Brighton.

The future of the street may well rest with shops that serve a very local clientele with ‘nuts-and-bolts’ staples coupled with the niche retailers that do not need a high street position.

The effect of the new Sainsbury’s supermarket on the Station Goodsyard site is unknown but it is unlikely to have much positive impact on footfall in London Road. The Co-op is an important element of the London Road district centre but, despite being our largest department store, it hardly figures in the city’s overall retail offer.

Its loss is however, a clarion call to London Road shopkeepers to revitalise the London Road Traders Association and engage with the local authority to ensure that the area is regenerated. The possibilities of a Business Improvement District (BID) should be explored and The Business Forum is ready to offer whatever help it can to this cause.


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