Home Business Debenham's Demise And The Collapse Of High Street Anchors

Debenham’s Demise And The Collapse Of High Street Anchors



We can see where this is going. Debenhams – in common with other big name stores – has for decades been regarded as the cornerstone, the anchor, of many a high street or destination shopping centre. The idea is that if there’s this big name, that folks will flock to, then that’s what creates the footfall for the other surrounding shops to thrive and survive.

After all, some little outlet selling candy floss isn’t going to do all that well if there’s no one walking by it. But if there are thousands of bored kids being dragged into the big name store by their parents then there’s a ready market passing the front door.

That’s the general business model and it’s one that has worked well for decades. The basic start to the planning of any shopping development is, OK, who is the anchor tenant? We get M&S in, Debenhams, hmmm, maybe BHS in times gone past, then we’re golden. We’ve filled the big corner lot, got the thousands of pedestrians a day we want, now we can start filling the little spaces in between. Get any one of them that is.

Cool. Nowt wrong as a plan. Except, of course when the big names go bust, the plan fails:

The demise of Debenhams threatens to rip the heart out of 60 town and city centres in which the famous retailer plays a crucial role in attracting shoppers to the area.

The end of Debenhams’ 242-year history could have a devastating knock-on effect on surrounding shops, particularly in the 60 locations where it is a standalone store considered an “anchor” by commercial real estate experts.

These include areas such as Norwich, Gloucester, Witney, Oxford and Lincoln.

Yes, we can see that’s a problem. Lacking the footfall those remoras around the anchor fail too. Seems pretty obvious in fact, take away the attraction and those reliant upon the attraction fail to thrive.

Now look again and consider what’s wrong with this picture?

The anchor stores have failed. Because they weren’t attracting enough custom – no, Debenhams did not go under because covid – couldn’t get people through the doors. Which means that the footfall to the swirling attendants had already fallen, doesn’t it?

The very process of going bust – not of being bust – is what has diminished the value of the anchor stores. Or even, shopping centres aren’t screwed because Debenhams has gone bust, Debenhams has gone bust because shopping centres are screwed.



  1. Was it ever so. I suppose more than a century ago it was: Le Bon Marché … the bright lights, the big city, Aladin’s cave. It is no longer an attraction, the internet offers more choice, if you want something special go to an independent.
    Department stores have become second level property companies selling concessions. The landlords might accept a pop-up to make the place look less empty but reluctantly, waiting for that big secure tenant to sign the long lease. It ain’t coming back.
    Redevelop the High Street? More residential, coffee shops for all those home workers missing the company of a real office. That has problems — those landlords again who would all rather take the windfall for residential than a lesser return for the little shops and cafés that would hold it together.
    As for the big edge-of-town places; why go to B&Q when I can click&collect from Screwfix.

  2. I was saying 20 years ago that it was a nonsense having high streets of shops with unused flats upstairs, and refused to follow that model and refurbished and upgraded the two flats above my shop. It seems my time has come, redevelop the high streets by using that upstairs space as actual accommodation and the retail level as the new fashionable close-to-home shops.


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in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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