DEBENHAMS: Leaving oldies in the lurch.
As the struggling retailer shutters units across the nation, the elderly are concerned.
Wolverhampton, West Midlands. The Debenhams unit inside the sparkling Mander Centre opened to great fanfare in October 2017. It was described by many as a ‘wonderful addition’ to the town and was admired for recruiting 90% of staff from the local area.
Now, barely 18 months later, the flagship’s flag is at half-mast and the location will close in early 2020. Shock and horror have rippled through the city’s care homes for the elderly.
Those who keep an eye on retailing trends know that this kind of event is nothing new. Buffeted by Brexit, online shopping and that twat who returns everything after wearing them for their Instagram feed, many bricks and mortar clothing stores are in trouble. House of Fraser, Matalan, Khan’s Lux Lingerie are among the names to go under.
However, for those of a certain age, and Wolverhampton seems to have more that its fair share, these facts mean nothing. For them, Debenhams is a warm and cosy place to while away a few hours as they wait for the free bobbi-bus to drive them home. Equipped with a discount cafeteria, good light and three disabled lavs, the site provides everything the elderly need in a 7-days a week day-care centre.
Now, with the department store on the ropes, many are lamenting the loss. RFN spoke to several senior citizens as they gathered near the slippers in the store’s shoe section. We asked them what they thought about the closure.
Rita Haynes, 71, said she used to shop at Woolworths until they went away. The pic n’ mix was her favourite. Loved a coconut mushroom. Now she came to Debenhams two or three times a week. She would miss the store. “It’s terrible. Leaves us in the lurch. I don’t why they’re closing. It’s been such a lovely place. Never any crowds. You can scoot the zimmer up and down the aisles as free as you like. Hate it when there’s customers. Why can’t they go elsewhere?”
Her friend, Winnie Crepe, 76, pursed her lips, “Yes, when shoppers come in, we frown. They think this place is a bloody market.”
Mary Wyskas, 74 was nodding in agreement, “Mmmmm, nice and quiet. Empty really. Pity they’re going. You think they’d care more about us old ones. Probably that awful Corbyn’s doing.”
We asked the group what they bought at the store. Frank Portley, 79, a retired bus driver from West Bromwich shook his head. “Nothin’. Prices are ridiculous. I get everythin’ at Poundland.” Mary nodded. “Mmmmm.”
A show of hands revealed that of all seven in the group, only Wally Cashmore, 84, had ever purchased anything at the store. When it first opened, he bought a tie for his daughter’s 60th birthday party. We asked him what he paid. He answered, “Blue with a green stripe.”
As the party drifted off to watch ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ on the big TVs in the electronics department, we called on the store’s manager, Eileen Fystworthy. She was defensive of the store’s closing. “Every business has to make tough decisions. The people of Wolverhampton have been marvellous, but the level of support that a store of this size needs just hasn’t materialised. We are sure the city will find a suitable retailer to take up where we leave off.”
When pressed for an ‘off the record’ quote, she added, “These fucking old people. They come in, finger everything, use all the bog paper and then piss off home at four o’clock. Never spend a penny. Bunch of tight-fisted old bastards. Treat this place like Butlins. One of them even left their dentures on the lipstick counter last week!”
It remains unclear what the elderly will do next May when this location shuts its doors. Rumours have it that the site will be converted into luxury flats and a ‘pop-in piri piri’ from Nando’s Express. The council is also said to have asked the big Halfords out by the ring road to let the town’s retirees hang out by the tyres and batteries section. So far, the light bulbs to tow ropes seller has failed to respond.
If all else fails, Peter Grimlock at Wolverhampton City Council said the elderly could spend their remaining days down at the crematorium. “There’s tons of space down there. Very quiet when the furnace is off. Makes total sense. They'll be there soon anyway.”
The remaining Debenhams stores are being sold to the Heartfelt Foodbank in Norwich for £10.