We need to think the unthinkable about Debenhams on The Moor
Ironically for such a huge building, the closure of Debenhams on The Moor would leave a huge hole.
Don’t panic, it’s definitely not happening this year, the company says. But it has just closed 19 and earmarked another 28 for the chop in the next two years.
Its somewhat tatty Sheffield shop is in a key position on The Moor, which is riding high after a £125m revamp.
It also faces the council’s Heart of the City II development which is bringing hundreds of millions of pounds of new offices, shops, cafes and apartments.
So you could argue it’s Sheffield’s most important site and the thought of it empty will strike fear into people who want the city to do well.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We’re getting used to big, established retailers with scores of shops employing thousands of people simply disappearing.
It doesn’t make it any easier for the people affected, obviously. But it should help us think the unthinkable.
What would we do without Debenhams?
A few years ago that would have been met with a long silence. There are only so many department store operators in the country. They’re all finding it tough, so a swift replacement would seem unlikely.
But while retail is in decline, Sheffield today is booming in other ways. There is probably a record number of residents in the city centre and record interest from firms keen to move in.
They bring demand for much more than just shopping, boosting cultural and leisure facilities and calls for things like clean air and better walking and cycling infrastructure.
Debenhams could be replaced by a block of flats with shops on the ground floor. In fact, some are predicting apartments on the upper floors of all the shops on The Moor and Fargate one day.
It’s unfortunate that the first big attempt, Fargate Evolve’s £4.6m scheme adjoining Chapel Walk, has ground to a halt and left scaffolding up for months.
The best outcome for Debenhams would be a big revamp inside and out to bring it up to the standard of its neighbours. The chain’s owners say they are restructuring, so as well as closing shops they are investing in those that are doing well.
But whether it stays or goes, we should expect change and be ready for it.