The department store Beales, which has a large presence in Bedford town centre, is on the brink of collapse if a buyer is not found.
The store group was founded in 1881 and was put up for sale in December. It has 22 shops including a flagship store in Bournemouth. Over 1,000 jobs are at risk.
If it cannot find a buyer, the business will go into administration, citing the ‘lunacy’ of high business rates and difficult trading conditions.
The chief executive and owner, Tony Brown told the Bournemouth Echo that the company could be, ‘restructured for a profitable future, but could not say which of its 22 stores were likely to survive.’
Following a very challenging few years on the UK’s High Street, M&S pulled out of Bedford in May last year.
Other high-profile losses to our town centre include BHS, TopShop, Thomas Cook, Laura Ashley and Game.
River Island has also confirmed it will be leaving Silver Street, while – in a rare piece of good news – Bedford’s Debenhams has survived their latest round of store closures.
Among the doom and gloom, it is vital to look at the changing landscape of town centres as a national issue, not specific to just Bedford.
Many years of austerity have seen disposable income reduced and shoppers have sought cheaper alternatives online.
High rents and lack of business rate reform means that many shops are crippled by enormous over-heads.
Despite free parking initiatives, Bedford’s shoppers often cite parking as a reason not to visit the town centre, preferring the comfort of their sofa and the ease of Amazon.
“The collapse of Beales has been on the cards for a while but it’s still disappointing nonetheless to imagine Bedford, a county town, to lose a department store,” said Helen Patterson of Bedford Town Centre Champions.
“Beales, like most department stores, have not remained relevant in today’s retail environment.
“Different concessions having different returns and customer service policies, poor customer experience, a lack of staff on the shop floor to assist people, hardly ever can you find help at the changing room etc has all lead to department stores becoming less favoured over time.
“The layout of Bedford’s Beales always felt the wrong way up. I’m forever hearing that Bedford needs a toy shop – we have a fantastic toy shop already on the top floor of Beales but without a lift, it’s not easy for parents and grandparents to access.
“Beales has a fab cafe but again, it’s on a higher floor so it’s not as well used as it could be.
“On the positive side, I always wondered if White Stuff, Joules and the like were put off from having their own store presence here in Bedford due to poor sales of their ranges in Beales.
“Perhaps now they could be tempted to have a standalone store in Bedford themselves. Here’s hoping.
On their website, Beales state, “Many of our stores have become local landmarks, situated in beautiful buildings at the heart of the high street…”
Should a buyer not be found, it would leave a local Bedford landmark empty…