Published: 11:30, 13 March 2016
Five years after it closed, TJ Hughes is set to return to Maidstone.
The discount department store shut its doors in the Mall Chequers in 2011 after going into administration. Sixty-seven staff lost their jobs after being given just eight days notice.
Of the 57 branches, six remained open after being bought by Lewis’s Home Retail Limited and the company is now seeking to rebuild its portfolio across the country. This week, the centre’s owners, Capital & Regional, announced the chain will move back into the 32,000 sq ft unit in September as part of the £5m refurbishment of the King Street complex.
While the move may evoke a feeling of nostalgia among many centre users, Gareth Holland, retail asset manager at Capital & Regional, says it is a huge boost for the town and “underlines how creating a modern shopping environment can attract high calibre retailers”.
Capital & Regional, which has agreed new leases with 10 retailers since the year-long works started, hopes the so-called anchor store will attract further businesses as the revamp passes the half-way mark.
Work on the store, which will be set across two floors of the centre, will begin this month. The refurbishment has seen the main entrances in King Street remodelled, the Gabriel’s Hill access point will also be widened, with new flooring and lighting installed throughout the centre and the toilets and lifts undergoing a complete overhaul.
It is the first major facelift the Mall has undergone since it opened as the Stoneborough Centre in 1976.
Anil Juneja, managing director at Lewis’s Home Retail, added: “Maidstone is an attractive location for us and the Mall provides the type of vibrant, contemporary setting we desire for our TJ Hughes’ stores. This is the first in our expansion plan in the south. We look forward to returning.”
With just under six months left of the project, one of Maidstone’s oldest shops has started to advertise new jobs.
The Golden Boot, which opened in 1790 and has been run by the same family for seven generations, will move into part of the former Ship Inn next to the Gabriel’s Hill entrance to the Mall Chequers.
Half of the empty listed building which has in recent years been used as a cafe and nightclub, will be torn down, with the independent shoe shop installing a large display window inside the shopping complex.
Meanwhile, another town centre family retailer has moved into the King Street centre.
County Cobbler, which has a shop in Week Street, opened inside the entrance of the Mall last month.
Gareth Holland, retail asset manager at Capital & Regional, said the refurbishment will be the first stage in a wider project to redevelop the King Street area.
Initially the company suggested the Mall would be at the centre of a £100m development encompassing Sainsbury’s at Romney Place.
Capital & Regional is now in talks with Maidstone council over an alternative multi-phased development project, although it is not known when this will begin.