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Debenhams sign in Folkestone comes down two days after store closes for final time

These sombre images show the Debenhams sign being removed from outside the Folkestone store today.

The flagship shop, in Sandgate Road, closed for the last time on Sunday - leaving the town centre without a department store for the first time in a century.

Workers remove the Debenhams sign at the Folkestone store, which closed on Sunday. Picture credit: Legends of Folkestone Facebook page
Workers remove the Debenhams sign at the Folkestone store, which closed on Sunday. Picture credit: Legends of Folkestone Facebook page

Pictures from the final weekend of trading show customers snapping up last minute bargains at the huge closing down sale, which launched a few months ago and saw even bare mannequins being sold.

But there wasn't much stock left to rummage through, with pictures revealing empty shelves and large vacant spaces.

Yesterday bosses from the chain released an open letter to customers and staff thanking them for their continued support.

The letter reads: "To Debenhams’ customers and colleagues,

"On Sunday, January 19, Debenhams closed its doors in Folkestone for the last time.

The sign was removed this morning. Picture credit: Legends of Folkestone
The sign was removed this morning. Picture credit: Legends of Folkestone

"We would like to thank all our customers for your support over the years.

"We would also like to thank the local team and our colleagues in the store, who have continued to deliver great service despite the news of the store closure.

"Once again we would like to thank everyone who has shopped with us in Folkestone since 1988 and we look forward to welcoming you to our online shop or extending a warm welcome to you at any of our stores in the future."

Debenhams' exit from the town was first announced in April last year as part of debt restructuring plans.

In total, 22 outlets were axed by the chain, including ones in Ashford, Chatham and Canterbury.

The Folkestone store - as well as three others in Kent - has now closed. Picture: Paul Amos
The Folkestone store - as well as three others in Kent - has now closed. Picture: Paul Amos

All four of the Kent stores have now ceased trading and the only Debenhams to remain in Kent are found at Broadstairs and Gravesend.

It is understood most members of staff, if not all, have been made redundant.

But the closure in Folkestone has prompted fears over decreased footfall in the high street and increased vandalism.

Jean Spain, who launched a petition to save the doomed store last summer, has spoken out about how its departure will affect the town.

Mrs Spain, 76, said: "I walked past Debenhams yesterday and there were very few people at that end of the road. Inevitably other shops will suffer too.

Customers bag a bargain on the last weekend of trading in Folkestone. Picture: Paul Amos
Customers bag a bargain on the last weekend of trading in Folkestone. Picture: Paul Amos

"Our thoughts are with the staff who, after the last few manic weeks, will now be out of work."

Alan Taylor, an historian from Folkestone, added: "I think the closing of Debenhams in Folkestone will affect the footfall because I would think that people come from Sandgate, Hythe, the Romney March, Dover and Deal to Folkestone.

"It is a pity that three shops in the south east are closing."

Although it is not confirmed, Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) have announced plans to fit a cinema in the now empty unit, which was purposely built to house former department store Bobby's, which originally opened in 1906 but moved to Sandgate Road in 1931.

New flats and more restaurants are also part of the ‘proposed town centre overall vision’, which was unveiled in April.

Images reveal huge vacant spaces within the store on Saturday. Picture: Paul Amos
Images reveal huge vacant spaces within the store on Saturday. Picture: Paul Amos

At the end of 2019, the council launched a public survey asking members of the public for their views on the future of the town.

The results of this have yet to be released.

But Mrs Spain has questioned why the council has not done more to make sure the unit it not left empty.

She adds: "There has been talk of a cinema and more shops but it's just talk. We are fearful of it being vandalised.

"I think the days of department stores are of the past."

Empty shelves at Folkestone. Picture: Paul Amos
Empty shelves at Folkestone. Picture: Paul Amos

FHDC says it is now working on short term and long term plans for the empty site.

Cllr David Monk, FHDC leader, said: “The nature of retail is changing and - like other towns across Britain - Folkestone is evolving as a result.

"Although we don’t own the former Debenhams unit in Sandgate Road we are in contact with the administrators for the owners of the site.

"We’re interested in plans for the short-term and long-term possibilities of the site and will share more information as soon as we are able.

"To help us understand more about what people want and need from the town centre we’ve completed a transport study with Kent County Council to identify how people get around.

"We’re also currently analysing the feedback from our town centre survey - the results of which will be shared once evaluated.

"We’ve just hired an independent retail expert to work with us to evaluate, advise on, and implement activities to revitalise the area.

"Her approach has been successful in a number of towns across Kent - something we’re hoping to replicate with the help of Folkestone town centre’s unique character.

"We’re also investing funding of £2.2m into Folkestone town centre to help fund projects which futureproof our high streets.

"So far four organisations or businesses in Folkestone have been successful so you may notice a change in the area - keep your eyes peeled for some exciting projects!"

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