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Bury St Edmunds columnist Michael Apichella urges shoppers to use all our high street stores

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It’s a fact. Nobody can help Bury St Edmunds. Nobody. Except us, that is. To that end, I’ve been banging on about the necessity of shopping in Bury’s independent businesses or else they could become extinct.

Consider the tragic, and I think unnecessary, ending of Palmer’s department stores recently. Now, however, with the growing number of High-street chains closing, we also need to help the retail giants in the area.

Recently, the Bury St Edmunds Debenhams store in the arc shopping centre avoided closure. Phew! Losing a retailer like that could lead to the forfeiture of more vendors, hurting our local economy for years to come. Jo Churchil MP knows this, and she’s speaking out in robust support of chain stores. Ms Churchill called on this area’s shoppers to make the most of our national retailers – or risk losing them.

Even chain stores need customers through the doors
Even chain stores need customers through the doors

According to this paper, our MP spoke a few days after Debenhams announced the closure of 50 of its stores nationally, with a fuller list not revealed at the time of this writing. Let’s keep fingers crossed that our Debenhams won’t be on the next round of shops to be chloroformed.

At the heart of many town-centre closures is the corresponding rise of online shopping. Darwinians may argue such losses are to be welcomed. When the old become inefficient they’re replaced by the new, and that’s good for all concerned, right? Just consider today’s state-of-the-art improvements in marketing as compared to only 10 years ago. Replacing outdated merchandising procedures with newer ones, you may argue, ensures shoppers get the best service for their money.

Granted. But as often as not, newer innovations bring curses, too. For example, due to increased online shopping, we’re seeing many once smart, attractive town centres ‘hollowed-out’ and rife with vandalism, crime, and hideous, tumbled-down buildings inviting more urban rot.

Town-centre retailers like The Works, Savers, Fat Face, Iceland, Wilco, WH Smith, White Stuff or Waitrose create more local jobs than the average online businesses. Moreover, since Debenhams is the arc shopping centre’s foundation, its mere presence affects nearby other amenities. If Debenhams falls, a domino-effect will likely follow, thrusting Bury St Edmunds into a serious commercial decline. What’s to be done?

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, and others, are advising shoppers to come to the rescue and shop in town if possible. He wants people to continue to use stores like Debenhams. “No doubt there will be further closures and we don’t want Bury to ever be one of those stores.”

I’ll top Mr C. If you need anything from a hat, to shoes, to underwear, buy it in town. There’s oodles of choice.

Shopping in Marks & Spencer, Boots, Bonmarché, Clarks or Edinburgh Woollen Mills, to name only a few chains, allows you to meet people, make new friends, and enjoy good food and drinks in nearby chain restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Costa and Greggs, not to mention Waterstones’ and Muffin Break’s coffee shops.

Bury St Edmunds shoppers expect our chain retailers to provide more than just fashions and convenience. They want a full range of quality merchandise, good after-sales care, and they want it offered up by polite, informed human beings, not Orwellian computer terminals. What’s more, they’d like their personalised service in a clean, well-lighted place – one good for meeting with friends, examining merchandise, or trying on different sizes.

Take it from me. You’ll get all that from our town’s retail chains, plus outstanding value. Bottom line? If we don’t use ’em we lose ’em. And, sadly, that’s a fact.