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Debenhams stores in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham and Folkestone

By Georgia Woolf and Katie Nelson

It is the main feature of many a High Street. But by Monday, department store Debenhams will become an empty shell in several town centres.

Debenhams Store, High Street, Chatham. Picture: Peter Still
Debenhams Store, High Street, Chatham. Picture: Peter Still

The Chatham branch was the first victim in Kent and as it closes its doors for the final time at 3pm today no plans for the store, which stretches across three floors, have been announced.

It's another of several big names to leave the town over the last decade including Marks and Spencer in 2006 and Woolworths in 2009.

Before Debenhams it was Allders – an independent department store famous in the town for it's Christmas displays in its large windows - until 2005 when the company went into administration.

The latest closure was described as devastating by MP Tracey Crouch.

She said: "I love Debenhams, I'm a woman in my mid 40s, it's a haven of excitement for me, I'm not sure which one I will go to now.

Customers at Chatham Debenhams look for last-minute deals. (26716468)
Customers at Chatham Debenhams look for last-minute deals. (26716468)

"I personally know many people who travel pretty far just to come to Debenhams in Chatham so I think it's going to be a big loss for the high street.

"I think it's devastating news for the High Street and for those involved."

In the sparse department store yesterday, it was all hands on deck on with staff busy moving fixtures and fittings and taking stock of what was left.

Those entering the store were greeted with huge banners proclaiming massive discounts and a countdown saying, "last two days".

Punters queued at the tills armed with bargains, some being able to score as much as 80% off clothes, while young men moved racks, tables, display cabinets and office draws into one large area where they could be purchased for as little as £5.

WATCH: Debenhams in Chatham begins to shut up shop on penultimate day

Some designer brand clothing such as Star by Julien Macdonald were being sold off for half price.

The top floor restaurant was closed off to the public leaving what was left of the womenswear, kidwear, menswear, and homeware sections up for grabs.

Beauty counters lay mostly empty with staff picking the last of the designer lipsticks off the shelves.

The vast amount of space laying empty in what was once a very busy, well stocked store.

The new flagship Debenhams store under construction at County Square, Ashford in 2006
The new flagship Debenhams store under construction at County Square, Ashford in 2006

It's a similar image at Ashford, which will cease trading on Sunday along with the Canterbury and Folkestone stores.

Debenhams was the first occupants of the building which was constructed in 2006.

Inside, the once-thriving store is becoming emptier by the day as staff pack up goods and shoppers bag last-minute bargains.

What was once a quiet corner to enjoy a sandwich, slice of cake or a tea, now resembles a storeroom filled with boxes and clothing rails.

In its final days, muffled conversations could be heard around the flagship store, with customers noting the sadness of its closure.

Shutters down on Debenhams in Ashford
Shutters down on Debenhams in Ashford

As the shelves become emptier, the atmosphere in the store becomes more depressing and eerie.

The upper floor - which once housed a cafe, homeware and children's clothing section - has now been closed off, with a barrier placed around the escalator to discourage customers from entering.

Stock is heavily reduced throughout, with huge discounts and savings on clothing, homeware and toys.

The make-up counters are starting to empty, as brand representatives pack up and collect remaining stock.

A countdown positioned at the front of the store serves as a painful reminder that by the end of the week, Debenhams will vacate the town for good.

The top floor in Ashford is now closed
The top floor in Ashford is now closed

Striking posters stating "everything must go" and "store closing" have been pinned against walls, boxes and shelves, with some items being discounted by as much as 80%.

On the bottom floor, previously packed designer clothing sections including Oasis, Quiz and Principles are now completely empty.

Mannequins are even up for sale and are being flogged for as little as £15.

Debenhams first announced plans to axe 22 stores nationally in April, as part of its debt restructuring plans.

In October, signs advertising closing down sales appeared in shop windows. Plans to replace the soon to be empty unit in County Square have already emerged.

Bosses behind the Ashford International Model Railway Excellence Centre, also known as AIMREC, are in discussions with the owners of County Square about taking over one of the floors in the huge department store.

How Guildhall Street will look after the Debenhams redevelopment
How Guildhall Street will look after the Debenhams redevelopment

There have long been calls for Primark to move into the huge retail space.

But a spokeswoman at Primark said: “We do not comment on speculation or plans regarding new store openings.”

The only store with definite plans for the future is in Canterbury where planning permission has recently been given planning permission for a £25 million project.

Developers are expected to start work on converting the three storey building into seperate retail units on the ground and flats with roof terraces above.

After this Sunday, the only Debenhams left in the county will be found at Westwood Cross shopping centre in Broadstairs and in Gravesend.

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