Department stores are the traditional centrepieces of our town and city centres.
They are often the backbone of high streets and a draw for thousands of shoppers annually.
But with chains falling on tough times, many stores face potential closure with the long term impact on shopping districts unclear.
Debenhams is the latest retail giant to face problems. Last week, it entered a pre-pack administration deal with around 50 of its 166 stores across the UK expected to close.
Wales has 10 branches – many of which were built in the last ten years as the central pillar of regenerated shopping centres.
Debenhams was the anchor store of both Friars Walk shopping centre in Newport, and the St Catherine’s Walk development in Carmarthen, which also opened to huge fanfare.
In the case of the former, the outlet – spread across three floors and 93,000 sq ft of space -threw open its doors in 2015 and formed a key part of Newport City Council’s part to regenerate the city’s ailing high street.
Naturally, news that the chain has waded into administration has been a cause for concern for local traders.
Angelo Attorre has runs cafe Bar Piazza which is less than 100 yards from Debenhams.
His business has been a staple in John Frost Square for nearly 20 years.
“It’s difficult” Angelo admitted. “It could have a massive affect on Friars Walk but hopefully it won’t be one of the ones that closes.”
Bar Piazza sits just outside the west wall of Friars Walk on Upper Dock Street.
The development has gifted Angelo an increase in footfall and subsequent loyal trade.
However, he said in other ways it has not made a massive difference as some had perhaps hoped – saying units directly in front of his shop still remain empty.
He added: “Online shopping has a lot to do with it. Instead of coming out people can stay in and do their shopping.”
But retail might not be draw for Newport city centre that it once was.
Many city centres are pulling away from shopping being their use, according to Manchester Metropolitan University Professor of Retail Cathy Parker.
In her joint research with Cardiff University, she said town and city centres could be divided into four categories: comparison shopping, holiday, multi-functional and speciality.
Professor Parker said: “According to our research only 22% of town centre still have retail as their anchor.
“So in other words, it’s a fairly small minority of centres where the major purpose for people going to that town is to do comparison shopping.
“The majority of towns are multi-functional. So that means people are going into them for a whole host of reasons. They might work in the centre, they might live there, they might go there to catch a bus, they might go to college.”
Newport Council previously said the Debenhams played a key part in attracting other high street names like Next, Pandora, Schuh and Top Shop back to the city centre.
“In the past, places are classified by the amount of retail space they have in them, and that’s why the councils were so keen to get retailers like Debenhams in as anchors,” Professor Parker added.
“Because if they got them in they immediately went up the rankings because they had more retail to offer and that was the only thing that dictated where you were in these rankings.”
“Newport is currently a comparison shopping city, but its signature is very close to a multi-functional town – suggesting that the anchor is becoming less about retail,” Professor Parker noted.
“Newport has been there longer than the Debenhams. So it really shouldn’t be the nail in the coffin when you lose a shop. There should be more to your town or city than a shop.”
Many traders agree Debenhams hasn’t been as much of a draw as the council hoped.
Joseph Rimola, 65, has been a fruit and veg trader for about 40 years, and ran a stall in the market for a number of years.
He has his run his stall outside Debenhams in Friars Walk for three years.
“I don’t think they do as much business as they expected to,” Joseph said.
“I’m right in front of the main window and there is constantly some sort of sale or incentive for shoppers to come in.
“I don’t think shoppers in Newport are as keen on that kind of shopping as they thought.”
He added: “As far as my personal views are concerned, we are competitively priced and I would be more concerned if Iceland closed down. It’s those grocery shoppers I need.
“The Debenhams customers might buy the odd apple or orange – but that’s it.”
There are 10 Debenhams stores in Wales: Cardiff, Newport, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea, Llanelli, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Wrexham, Llandudno and Bangor.
In Swansea, shoppers had mixed feelings about the potential closure.
Anisha Rahman, 20, Pontardawe, said: “I always pop into Debenhams, I often buy make-up products and clothes. It’s a big shock to hear that the store has gone into administration. It would be a big loss to Swansea if this store was to close.”
Sharmila Rahman, 18, Pontardawe, said: “I just go to Debenhams for a browse, I don’t usually buy anything. If the store was to close it would be interesting to see what might replace it.”
Debenhams has declined to comment on which stores may be chosen for closure.
It is expected that the business will assess under-performing stores first, and where possible, attempt to lower rent prices before making any changes.
The first wave of closures, thought to be 12, are not expected to happen until early next year.
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