Published: 23:25, 15 September 2021
| Updated: 07:19, 16 September 2021
A new tenant for Ashford’s abandoned Marks & Spencer store has finally been secured – more than two years since the retail giant pulled out of the town centre.
HomePlus Furniture is set to move into the prime unit before Christmas after bosses signed a 15-year lease.
The firm is currently occupying the former Argos unit in New Rents but will close that shop in the new year to focus solely on the ex-M&S site.
Owner Martin Rose says he plans to spend about £200,000 fitting out the store, which faces onto the high street and can also be accessed via County Square.
“It has taken a long time but we were determined to get it,” Mr Rose said.
“We are going to smarten up the shop so it will be a whole new experience from what people had when it was M&S.
“I’d like to open before Christmas and we will make a difference to the town centre.
“There’s not many people out there that can take on that sort of space.”
In March last year, HomePlus was forced to leave its site in Beaver Road as the former B&Q store was demolished to make way for the ‘Ashford Shard’ 16-storey tower block plan.
It moved into the New Rents unit last summer, but Mr Rose says he “always knew it would be a stopgap” because the shop will be knocked down if plans for a 92-bed hotel, bar and restaurant are approved.
“Before we came out of the old store, we were making enquiries about M&S,” he added.
“But because we were dealing with a huge company, we weren’t important in the grand scheme of things.
“It has just dragged on and on; it required a lot of loose ends being tied up.”
Mr Rose says he will allow up to six concessions to trade in the store, which goes across 25,000 sq ft.
They could include carpet merchants, double-glazing firms, or log burner installers.
“We will have certain opportunities in the store for concessions to come in and trade with us,” Mr Rose said.
“It needs to be something that complements what we do, something that doesn’t conflict with us.
“We don’t want to turn it into a bazaar – it needs to be something that is neat and tidy.”
Mr Rose, who runs six stores in the county, says the M&S move will create a number of new jobs, but he is yet to confirm exactly how many.
He did not consider filling the former Debenhams unit as its three-storey set up would not suit his business.
“We like to have it where everything is on one floor and people can see what is around them,” Mr Rose said.
“We have had a presence in Ashford for 30 years and we are determined to succeed in our own town.
“People come to us from all over and it is important we have a shop in Ashford to look after those who have bought from us in the past.”
The upper floor of the former M&S unit, which also goes across 25,000 sq ft, will be used as a warehouse.
The large store has been empty since May 2019 when M&S left the high street, ending its 85-year association with the town centre.
Ashford Borough Council is yet to decide on plans for the New Rents hotel, but SPPF Ltd wants to knock down Game, PDSA, Betfred, British Heart Foundation, HomePlus and the ex-Pet Essentials unit to make way for the development.