May 11, 2021
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Debenhams Bournemouth exit gives opportunity for indie replacement

May 11, 2021

As Debenhams exits the high street, many of its former stores are being converted to non-retail uses. But there appears to be an opportunity opening up for the return of smaller department store operators. 

The new Bobby's store will open in July

Following Beales having made a comeback recently, it seems that another historic department store name is set to move into the former Debenhams store in Bournemouth. Bobby’s will be moving into the site that was actually its former home from 1915 until 1972 when the firm was merged into Debenhams.

The Debenhams branch closes this week but Bobby’s will be opening by the summer after the town square site has been redeveloped by Verve Properties.

The new Bobby’s store that opens in July will include traditional department store categories such as fashion and a beauty hall, but there will also be an art gallery and a dog café (as well as dining options for humans). The beauty hall will include well-known names, but also also local, sustainable and conscious brands.

The development also aims to uncover some of the building's original details and repair others, such as the copper domes on the roof, balconies and flagpoles, and a front entrance from 1933.

The development clearly isn't going to replicate what small, independent department stores were like just a few years ago as such stores found themselves looking tired and outdated, which is part of the reason that they’ve declined in recent years.

Instead, it's all about a modern and upscale experience. Verve’s Ashley Nicholson told the Bournemouth Daily Echo: “If shoppers are going to be tempted back into town centres, retailers need to consider what kind of shopping experience people will want to happen in real life. Beauty, clothing and footwear are good examples of retail that people want to try out in person.”

The store will clearly be pitched towards tourists as well as locals with Bournemouth being a major holiday and day-trip destination (outside of the pandemic, of course). And while many analysts have written off the department store as a concept, in locations such as this, it could still have a bright future.

Paul Kinvig, COO of Bournemouth Town Centre BID, said of the plans: “It really is wonderful to see the transformation planned for the building and a real vote of confidence for our town centre. It will be a major draw for residents and visitors alike and a great example of the past and the future working together. Sometimes you have to go back to move forward.”

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