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Coronavirus Kent: A look inside Fenwick's Canterbury branch on the day it's due to close

Inconspicuously positioned next to the entrance of Canterbury’s Fenwick is an unassuming sheet of paper.


The department store has been trading in the centre of Canterbury since 2003
The department store has been trading in the centre of Canterbury since 2003

It was announced yesterday that the Whitefriars shop, which has been trading in the city centre for 17 years, will be locking its doors at 6pm today.

In a statement, the chain assured customers that it will continue to operate online, but said it needed “to do the right thing... by mitigating the potential spread” of the coronavirus.

As I visited the store hours before it closed, it was eerily quiet, lacking its usual bustle.

A customer recoiled as they instinctively reached for the escalator banisters, and its toilets had several notices pasted to its walls informing shoppers how to wash their hands the “right way”.

On the elevator in front of me, a gilet-clad man holding his phone to his ear said meekly: “Fenwick is closing”. Approaching two shop assistants, another customer asked: “You’re closing?”

“Yeah, we will be, but we’ll be back,” a member of staff responded.

I sat across a table - advertised for a couple hundred pounds - from bespectacled store director Simon Youden.

There were as many customers as shop workers across the second floor. The only sounds that could be heard were the clanging of cutlery against plates from inside the café and the rumbling of the escalator.

“You remarked it’s quite quiet up here,” the 54-year-old said, “but that’s because people aren’t going to fork out four-and-a-half grand at the moment.

Simon Youden standing on the shop's empty top floor
Simon Youden standing on the shop's empty top floor

“We’re doing well in comparison to others. Retail is tough generally. A number of large stores are closing. We traded very well in January, but it’s been harder since the outbreak of the coronavirus started to occur.

“You look at Canterbury and it’s quieter at the moment. You go into any shop - apart from one selling food - and it’s very quiet.”

Two years ago, 25 employees were laid off at the Canterbury branch after experiencing a slump in annual profits, with gross sales dropping by 3.6%. But Mr Youden says none of his 150-strong workforce has been made redundant.

“Everything remains as is for our staff until further notice,” he stresses. “It’s a positive message that is being sent out. Staff really understand and appreciate that we’ve made a decisive decision.

“Closing is a completely precautionary measure following government advice and the seriousness of the situation. There are no recorded incidents of coronavirus within the store at all.

Fenwick is closing all of its stores from 6pm today
Fenwick is closing all of its stores from 6pm today

“It’s an unprecedented news story at the moment. The health and safety of our staff and customers is absolutely paramount. It’s important we have their welfare at heart.”

The greying, imposing building, which is at the mouth of Canterbury’s main shopping thoroughfare, will shut at 6pm today. When it and the chain’s eight other stores - including a branch in Tunbridge Wells - will reopen is not yet known.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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