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Debenhams flies the flag

PUBLISHED: 17:58 30 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:08 03 July 2010

Department store Debenhams' return as the cornerstone of Great Yarmouth's shopping mix is being hailed as a boost to the recovering town centre.

Marooned by roadworks and hit by the economic downturn retailers say yesterday's opening of the “clean and shiny” store - the flagship of a £16m extension to Market Gates - has come just in time.

Department store Debenhams' return as the cornerstone of Great Yarmouth's shopping mix is being hailed as a boost to the recovering town centre.

Marooned by roadworks and hit by the economic downturn retailers say yesterday's opening of the “clean and shiny” store - the flagship of a £16m extension to Market Gates - has come just in time.

Centre manager Nick Spencer said interest in the remaining units was strong given the cold trading climate although he did not expect any new signings until after Christmas.

Town centre manager Jonathan Newman said he was delighted to welcome the retailer back, 23 years after it pulled out of the town saying that Yarmouth wasn't big enough for a modern department store.

Its return was as much about the reinvention of the Debenhams brand as Yarmouth's upturn in fortunes, Mr Newman said, adding that there was an air of “quiet optimism” about the town's ability to attract new shoppers.

“The new part of centre really is bright and shiny. It really is impressive. There is a lot of work going on and some vacant units. New Look has already opened on two floors, it is a bigger offer and they have menswear - that in itself is great. And of course Starbucks is opening on the corner where Iceland used to be later next month.

“It's exciting. It's a new chapter for Great Yarmouth's town centre that will hopefully have the effect of overturning recent poor footfall. I hope that there will be a lot more interest and that people will think twice about going to Norwich. Everyone has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It makes Yarmouth a more attractive shopping destination. It was always important that the right new shops were attracted into the town and Debenhams is the right shop to attract extra people not the same people doing more shopping.”

The new store has created 159 new jobs with New Look, Starbucks, Poundland and Orange adding to the total.

Mr Spencer said the 55,000sq ft extension had increased the size of the centre by a third. He said negotiations were underway over the large unit between Debenhams and New Look among others.

“It would be fair to say that you get to this time of year and most retailers are concentrating on their Christmas trade, keeping the dialogue going and doing a deal after Christmas.

“You do get a bit of a lull in shop fitting at this time of year but in Yarmouth we have a good summer season so there's a good reason to get in early in the new year. In fact our summers are sometimes better than Christmas which is a very compact period.

“Market Gates has for 32 years formed the retail heart of the town. We are continually dedicated to providing a quality shopping experience for our customers. Expanding investment into the town as a whole and increasing local job numbers we continue to work with the council and our retailers to ensure that Great Yarmouth continues to provide a viable alternative to other shopping, leisure and business destinations.”

On Tuesday mobile phone specialist Orange became the latest retailer to sign up with the aim of being in for Christmas.

Debenhams was due to be opened yesterday by the Hannant family of Halvergate who won a Mercury competiton and a host of vouchers and prizes to find the family whose values most closely chimed with the centres. They will be joined by the mayor and Anglia personality Helen McDermott.

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