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Final closure of Marks and Spencer in Ashford ends 85 years of town centre presence

It was the last brave cheer.

Staff at Marks and Spencer in Ashford said a final goodbye as their store shut permanently today.

The County Square branch closed early, at 4pm instead of the usual 5.30pm.

Shopper were sad to see the store close

Employees posed for photographs to give a big cheer and wave.

But it was tinged with sadness as their workplace shut down despite a 930-signature petition to save it.

And only 60% of the 41 staff have places in other M&S shops.

This also became a double blow as just eight days ago Debenhams announced it would close its town branch next years, which is also at County Square.

Workers did not speak to the waiting press but several customers were open about their dismay.

David Gladwin: "Terrible that it's closing."
David Gladwin: "Terrible that it's closing."

David Gladwin, of South Willesborough, used the shop for the last time today.

He said: "I got there just in time. I think it's terrible it's closing.

"I returned five years ago so I often pop in there to get things, It's a shame.

"Because I got into town a lot it's easier to go in there and you can get clothes too."

Mr Gladwin said he would now use Tesco and Iceland.

Mike Avery: "People rely on shops close to them."
Mike Avery: "People rely on shops close to them."

Mike Avery, of Folkestone, said: "I've shopped here for many years and it's sad to see it closing alongside Debenhams at the end of the year.

"I thinks it's become a bit of a problem in some respects because I still think a lot of people rely on shops being close to them instead of them having to travel a long way to get the same stuff.

"It's okay for them to keep saying you can shop online but you like to feel the goods before you buy them."

The Folkestone Marks and Spencer shut in 2006 so Mr Gladwin said he used the County Square one regularly.

But, he explained, as he had a car he still has the option to use the Canterbury and Westwood Cross branches.

Ghaffar Mirza: "It's a wonderful shop."
Ghaffar Mirza: "It's a wonderful shop."

Retired GP Ghaffar Mirza has lived in Ashford since 1984 and said, over the decades, he bought a wider range of food and clothing products from the branch.

He said: "It has been a shop for me for a long time. It's sad that we are going to be losing it. It's a wonderful shop."

He said that Canterbury M&S was now the alternative for him.

Hetti Walton: Just missed a last purchase
Hetti Walton: Just missed a last purchase

The early closure took a number of of customers hoping to make a final purchase by surprise.

Hetti Walton, of South Ashford, was one of those who came too late.

She said: "I'm shocked. I didn't think it was going to close until 5.30pm.

"It is a loss to Ashford. All the big stores are shutting."

Ms Walton had needed this store for food, clothes and toys for her infant grandchildren.

She said: "They have everything you need here."

She said she would now have to use the branches at Maidstone or Canterbury.

Some of the last customers leaving.Picture: Paul Amos.
Some of the last customers leaving.Picture: Paul Amos.

Last year Marks and Spencer confirmed it would axe 100 stores across the country over the next four years.

The proposed end of two Kent M&S stores, Deal and Ashford, was announced by the company on January 15.

The Deal store closed last Saturday despite a fierce battle by customers to keep it open.

A petition against the proposal gained 3,000 signatures in 24 hours.

Now 40% of the 45 staff at that branch are being redeployed to other M&S stores.

Resistance was also put up in Ashford, with a petition in January gaining 930 names calling on the County Square branch to be saved.

Marks & Spencer opened its first purpose-built store in Ashford in 1934.

Marks and Spencer at County Square closes for the last time. Staffwaved to thank customers for their support. Picture: Paul Amos.
Marks and Spencer at County Square closes for the last time. Staffwaved to thank customers for their support. Picture: Paul Amos.

The clothing, homeware and food retailer's first site in the town centre opened at 64 to 66 High Street onMay 29.1934, the present site of Barclays Bank and Iceland.

It moved to County Square on March 5, 1979 when it was called the Tufton Centre.

There is still an M&S Foodhall at Ashford's Warren Retail Park, which opened in 2017, and a clothing unit at the Ashford Designer Outlet.

An M&S spokesman had earlier said: “Shopping habits are changing and reshaping our store estate to reflect this means making some difficult decisions.

"We hope to see lots of customers continuing to shop with us online and at M&S Dover, Westwood Cross and Canterbury where the vast majority of our colleagues are relocating to."

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

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