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Reaction over the closure of Deal's Marks and Spencer branch

ByCharlie Harman

The sense of mourning was palpable in Deal High Street on Saturday.

Everybody was discussing the closure of the town's Marks and Spencer, not one of the voices sounding happy about it.

Originally opened in 1937, the branch was a central part of the town for generations.

Bunting was put out the front, with its usual M&S Foodhall message replaced with "MiS you"
Bunting was put out the front, with its usual M&S Foodhall message replaced with "MiS you"

The high street staple announced it would close the store in January as part of a downsizing effort which will see 100 M&S branches close nationwide.

Despite a petition opposing the closure gaining 3,000 signatures in 24 hours, the campaign to save the shop was unsuccessful.

On its last day of trading, the shop was filled with a constant stream of visitors saying goodbye to staff who had become friends and making their final purchases.

One of them, Vivien Clifford, said: "I think it's awful - this will take the heart out of the town.

Vivien Clifford thinks the heart of Deal has been lost due to the closure
Vivien Clifford thinks the heart of Deal has been lost due to the closure

"It's got good features and cruelty-free products that you don't get anywhere else. Everyone's up in arms about it.

"There's a notice out the front that says 'shame on Dover District Council and M&S HQ'. They haven't given any thought to the customers.

"I haven't got a car and if I want to go to M&S I'll have to go to Canterbury by bus or Westwood Cross by train.

"They have such a wide range but we won't be able to access it any more. They say the other shops are nearby but they aren't.

"Have they got any conscience?"

"Have they got any conscience?" Vivien Clifford, Deal resident

Long-term customer Shirley Divito, of Middle Deal Road agreed and said: "They've ripped the heart out of the high street and it'll never be the same. It'll never be replaced.

"They're like my extended family in there. Even though I was just a customer, over 20 years we formed friendships, long-lasting ones. I even have some of the staff on Facebook.

"We're losing Debenhams in Folkestone and that's one of the main shops in the town. We're losing the Canterbury one too, what have we got left?

"It's people shopping online that's making shops suffer.

Shirley Divito went for one last visit with her husband
Shirley Divito went for one last visit with her husband

"We've spent an hour saying goodbye to our friends, but hopefully some will move to the Dover store so it'll continue, for me but sadly not in Deal.

"My fears are for the elderly population in Deal. There's a lot of people who come down just to chat and catch up with the staff.

"Which other shops have the time to be friendly or close with their customers? Sainsbury's certainly doesn't.

"It's the elderly I feel extremely sad for as it's them who'll struggle."

Some of the graffiti says that Dover District Council and Marks and Spencer should be ashamed
Some of the graffiti says that Dover District Council and Marks and Spencer should be ashamed

The staff appeared less than excited for their last day, reportedly having a morning sing-song to buoy their spirits.

Of the 45 members of staff from the Deal store, 40% have been redeployed to other stores.

In Ashford, about 60% of the 41 workers will move to other M&S shops.

Sean Pendergast, a last-day shopper, said: "It's disgusting. I won't be using the Dover site.

Passers-by were taking pictures with the iconic Deal staple
Passers-by were taking pictures with the iconic Deal staple

"They try to push it but that store's always empty and lacks the atmosphere this one has,

"Why close the shop that's always full for the one that's never busy?

"I just don't understand it. How many people are going to go all the way to Canterbury just to go to Marks and Spencer?

Supportive messages have also been written on the 'shutting down' boards
Supportive messages have also been written on the 'shutting down' boards

"Will Boots go next? I'm concerned that, while we have a lot of good independent shops, places like Dover are having shops drop out left, right and centre.

"Hopefully that won't happen here."

Charlotte Jarman, from Walmer, feels like this isn't a vote of no confidence in Deal's High Street, which was named High Street of the Year by The Telegraph in 2013.

She said: "I think it's sad for the high street but it's a sign of the national decline.

Charlotte Jarman is confident that Deal's high street will continue to thrive
Charlotte Jarman is confident that Deal's high street will continue to thrive

"A lot of people have been angry about it. It's such a busy store I think it's a worrying sign for the business.

"I think it's just a result of the national chain struggling. It's more to do with M&S as a company and not Deal.

"It's such a thriving high street but if they aren't doing well, it's just what they have to do to survive."

Questions will now be raised over what, if anything, can go into the unit and fill the large hole that Marks and Spencer will leave.

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