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Former Debenhams store in Bury St Edmunds 'likely to remain empty' until at least 2023, meeting hears




The former Debenhams store in Bury St Edmunds is likely to stay empty until at least 2023, a meeting heard this week.

At Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID) annual general meeting on Tuesday, Steve Bunce, manager of the Arc shopping centre, told members that the town 'most likely had two Christmases to get through' before the premises reopened under a new name.

Mr Bunce said that they had had four companies offering to take over the former Debenhams shop, which closed in May this year, but any deal would take time, especially if it was a deal with a major retailer.

The former Debenhams store in the Arc, Bury St Edmunds.
The former Debenhams store in the Arc, Bury St Edmunds.

He said: “We have had four people offering to take it over and that shows, again, that Bury, is a viable shopping destination.

“The reality for us though is the bigger the deal we have to get done - the store was purpose built for Debenhams - there are likely to be changes.

"The reality is we probably won’t see anyone trading until 2023, so we have two Christmases to get through, which is not ideal."

Mr Bunce said he was confident a deal would be struck but 'it was a matter of managing expectations'.

He said he didn’t think the situation would be the same for the smaller Topshop unit, which closed in February this year.

Asked if anything could be done at the former Debenhams in the interim period, Mr Bunce replied: “We can’t start any work until a deal is done, so even if we get a deal in the next 12 weeks, we estimate it would likely mean between between 26 and 35 weeks of work for what we need to do, and a tenant on large scale may have anything up to one year’s work.”

Steve Bunce, Arc shopping centre manager. Photo by Mecha Morton
Steve Bunce, Arc shopping centre manager. Photo by Mecha Morton

He said that the Arc had declined an offer from online clothes retailer boohoo, who wanted to use the shop’s windows purely for advertising, as it has done with several defunct high street retailers across the country.

BID CEO, Mark Cordell, told the meeting that the organisation, which supports town businesses, was however 'looking forward with optimism’ to the town’s future, post-pandemic.

He said footfall was returning and that 16 new business had also come to town to fill vacant units.

He said key to the town’s future success was understanding what shoppers wanted and appealed to shopkeepers to help out with a forthcoming survey.

Mr Cordell added that money accrued through the traders’ BID levy during the past year would be spent 'appropriately and productively as possible' across the organisation’s five-year term, as events return, and that marketing had continued during lockdowns.

“In what has been a horrendous year, well done to everyone for even still being here, after facing so many challenges,” he said.

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