The Argos store in Bedford’s Harpur Centre is among 420 branches that will permanently close, it has been announced today (Thursday). The in-store Argos at Sainsbury’s in Fairfield Park will continue trading.
Argos joins a list of large chain stores that have closed their Bedford branches in recent years, including Marks & Spencer, Beales, BhS, Game, Bathstore and River Island, leaving vacant properties in the heart of the town.
Sainsbury’s, which owns the Argos brand, confirmed this morning that it is to cut 3,500 jobs which incorporates all standalone Argos outlets and all its meat, fish and deli counters.
The Bedford store, which is situated by the Horne Lane entrance of the shopping centre, closed at the end of March as part of the initial national coronavirus lockdown and has remained closed ever since.
This is despite assurances in August that the store was preparing to reopen to customers.
A spokesperson from the Harpur Centre said, “We know many local people will miss their town centre Argos store, however, The Harpur Centre’s retail offering remains healthy and diverse.
“It has been a challenging year for people and businesses nationwide, but we have seen our community come together like never before and know that by looking after each other, and supporting our local businesses, Bedford continues to have a bright future ahead.”
Commenting on the announcement, the MP for Bedford, Mohammad Yasin, said, “Losing another well-known brand from the town centre, especially one which offered such good value for money, is yet another blow to our high street and couldn’t have come at a worse time when so many people are worried about their jobs.
“I have written to the Head of Property at Sainsbury’s today asking for clarity on the number of potential job losses at the Argos store and the Sainsbury’s deli counters and to seek a commitment for redeployment.
“While Bedford is very lucky to have some fantastic small, independent delis and food outlets, it is also disappointing to hear customer choice will be shrinking because of the closure of the fish and deli counters in Sainsburys.
“I have asked for more details on why this decision has been made and if the closure is in any way related to the UK’s departure from the EU and possible food tariffs.”
Gary Hooper, owner of GCH Fishmongers, who previously worked as a consultant training fish counter staff for Sainsbury’s and Tesco, said, “I can’t say I’m surprised that Sainsbury’s fish counters are closing to be honest.
“The people in head office who make the decisions don’t understand the industry. I became so frustrated that I set up my own shop and the rest is history.
“We’ve been inundated with orders from people who are not comfortable shopping in supermarkets at the moment. People think fishmongers are more expensive than supermarkets, but we’ve got something for every budget.”
The BBC’s business correspondent, Emma Simpson, who visited Bedford this week to speak to independent business owners, said on the BBC News website, “These Argos closures were on the cards long before the pandemic.
“When Sainsbury’s bought the business in 2016, it was clear that hundreds of Argos stores would be closed and relocated inside Sainsbury’s supermarkets.
“This integration is already well underway and it’s easy to see why the business is accelerating these plans. Sales at Argos grew by 11% over the last six months despite all its stores being shut during lockdown. It doesn’t need as many standalone Argos shops.
“The company says our shifting shopping habits is also behind the need to close its deli, fresh fish and meat counters. Counters aren’t cheap to run and demand, it says, has been falling.
“Sainsbury’s needs to cut costs, partly so it can invest in lowering its prices to keep up with the intense competition. Customers will vote with their feet if they’ve got it wrong.”