‘It was heartbreaking’: can a city survive when its M&s closes?

Under the ghostly imprint marks and Spencer labels, Kerryann Wade remembers the day the management staff on the second floor for a meeting. It was in June of 2015 and shop in Aldershot survived, and the shops around it had disappeared. Just a few doors along the high street Hampshire, two other divisions are traces of more lively times; of Woolworths shut down in 2008, is located next to blockbuster Express, which lasted until 2013. Both stores are empty.

“We were all thinking: where’s the champagne?’ Because we, as a rule, was called upstairs to hear how well the shop was doing,” Wade, 42, recalls. Pen drops the old store glass door. Wade kept the sign of the liquor license, which hung over the door, because he wore her name as a former food Manager. “But when we got there they said, ‘to sit down’, and I said, ‘No, I want to hear it now.’”

After almost 90 years in the territory, which extends through the other entrance on Union street, M&s announced its intention to leave Aldershot and once thriving shopping district. It would be a blow for customers and 45 employees. But when retail mainstay is closing its doors for cities across the country after announcement of M&s in the last month that it plans to close more than 100 stores by 2022 – the consequences can be complex. In the same way that developers and councils to ask for “keystone” or “anchor” to enhance the prestige and attendance of the shopping streets and shopping centers, with their departure can leave a hole that only grows deeper.

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Kerryann Wade outside the main entrance of M&S. Photo: Jill Mead for the guardian

“I can say it took 30 to 40% of my business,” says Ranjita Malla, who works Shreyas fashion, a few doors from the old m&C street entrance of the Union. She opened a clothing and jewelry store in 2011 in the former British heart Foundation shop. “When we opened we were always busy and we had three or four employees.” Malla is now worth only up to six days a week. “People came not only from the City but from nearby villages in m&s and they come up in other stores,” she says. “Now they have no reason.”

Rent Malla goes up, while the fees of the dip. She will make a decision about the future at the end of the summer. “Only the hope keeps me going With M&s closed,” she adds.

Elsewhere in Aldershot, which sits between the thriving cities, including Farnborough, farnham and Camberley, retail card not less ragged. There are mixed messages in Poundworld on Wellington Street, where freshly printed notice was taped to the window, close with a call for new consultants. The chain declared bankruptcy the day before my visit. At the Mall of Wellington, the mattress must soon close, and the shutters to block the bridge that leads to the gallery. The entire Mall, the expansion of the Wellington, which was built in the 1990-ies with 21 stores, was frozen in time for almost ten years.

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Blockbuster store Aldershot, which ceased operations in 2013. Photo: Jill Mead for the guardian

Walk a few hundred meters from the entrance to M&S on the high Street, its street entrance of Union cemetery the British retail trade. After curtained snooker bar and shop, I walk to woolworths and blockbuster. At the corner, party BUZ is occupied by the old Burton and Dorothy Perkins stores that closed shortly before m&S. the other side of the store on Union street is boarded up. Topshop used to be there, but the store and its neighbours are already empty. I watch the workers the intestine near the shop together: Mangobean, cafe, which opened six months before m&s closed should be replaced by the next branch. Factory card and Claire survived, but then it Timpson, which was closed in March of this year, before I returned to M&S. this 15 shopfronts in a row, 10 of which are abandoned.

Consumer spending, the growth of online trading and rising rents and business courses are challenging streets everywhere. Aldershot has a story, too. Its population of more than 35,000 fluctuated with the advance and retreat of the largest employer; Aldershot was a small village until the British army had created a huge garrison in the 1850s. At that time M&s had closed, it was an outlet shop selling discounted lines of warehouses chain, along with a full grocery store. But Wade said that trade was good. Surviving business owners and buyers to remember about closing as the biggest recent blow to the fate of the city.

“It was the only big name that could still attract people,” says Sunday Karapinar, who runs a restaurant Poppins, opposite Shreyas fashion. The Turkish origin businessman serves clients on Union street, since 1991. “I’m used to seeing the same time, or two persons a week.” Fees also fell sharply for several weeks after M&s closed, Karapınar says. As well as the destination on Union street, in the store bound clients in high Street, which is opposite the car Park.

If Union street was quiet, when M&s left the high Street has suffered even more. Wade remembers when three wishes gift shop opened in early 2015, purely to pick up M&s traffic. Three wishes to hang on until last summer. The owners chose not to survive the downturn. Whether pierce might have suffered the same fate. Former software army tester opened his own gift shop on the high street in 2007. Inspiration flourished and expanded, but Internet Commerce was already dominant when M&closure all but emptied his store. Last year he moved from high street in a purpose-built warehouse. “The economies of these large stores is that they bring people and we feed on crumbs,” he says. “When they come, people go, and before you know it there’s a snowball effect”.

Retail analysts and scientists are only beginning to deal with this effect. “The evidence was not collected because the loss of these large stores at this level has only occurred in the last 12 to 18 months,” says Chris Perry, retail expert and senior lecturer of accounting and Finance at the University of Cardiff Metropolitan. “But I think when we have this, it will be a fascinating picture.” Diane Werle, an analyst at retail intelligence firm springboard, describes the cycle of decline when a big-name client packages: “come in fewer buyers, so existing businesses difficult to survive. When they fail, it increases the vacancy rate, which makes the center less attractive, so fewer buyers are coming …”

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A sign of things to come. Photo: Jill Mead for the guardian

Dejected, the customers contribute to have to shout city and taking their custom elsewhere. “It is very bad,” says Louise Greaves, who pushes her 10-week-old daughter, Evelyn, along Union Street. “There’s nothing. I only come here for diapers and bottles, but I didn’t come to town.” If they don’t go to Lidl, which is in the center, a former M&a food customers now drive to Tesco and Morrisons on the outskirts of the city. The Morrisons is adjacent to the successful westgate centre, which opened in 2013 and includes the world of cinema, Nando’s and Pizza Express. But residents say that it draws only people from the city centre.

Shoppers older and people with disabilities talking about close to hit them harder, forcing them to depend on reduced bus or a cab. “I really liked the food and pants because I could get my size, I only have wee short legs,” says Mary king, who is 89 and moved here from Glasgow in 1946. The king sits near Gala Bingo opposite the M&s high street entrance with his girlfriend Maggie lawless. The pair appeared on food and clothing every week. “It was heartbreaking when it closed,” King says. “People shop online, but who wants to stay indoors day after day?”

The closure of m&s came despite a local campaign to save it. Within three months of frantic, over 10,000 buyers and storekeepers signed an online petition and a clipboard, fearing, M&s took with it the heart of Aldershot. Then MP, sir Gerald Howarth met with m&s in the house of Commons. But the action had no effect. “The blow was devastating,” says Keith Bean, a local car salesman and an Amateur historian who led the campaign. “It was so deflating – I just sat and thought: ‘God, no, that’s the last thing the town needs.’”

M&s said it was closing five stores in changes in inventory management meant that they had fewer surplus clothing for sale. In a statement this week, the company said that it always regrets the closure. “We understand that there is an influence at the local level and for our people and, as it was in Aldershot, we always offer to all our colleagues roles in nearby stores.” Thirty-five of the 45 staff in Aldershot have been reallocated, adds the company.

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‘If I leave this on the market to fix, will need 20 years … Advisor to David Clifford. Photo: Jill Mead for the guardian

Bob grew up in Aldershot and hates its reputation. “You have all these salubrious villages around us and the local nickname is ‘alder-shit’, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” he says. He is cautiously optimistic about plans by the local government to revive the city. Rushmoor borough also covers Farnborough, which is great, but starting in may 2016, Aldershot boy, David Clifford, was the leader of the Council. “I have family who live here, and I’ll be heartbroken if I don’t do what you need,” says Clifford, who runs a local embroidery and was an adviser since 1991.

Clifford is so full of ambition for aldershot that it is almost floating, and waving on Union street. He prefers not to dwell on the empty M&s, despite the shadows he casts on the quiet stream of visitors at lunch time. “In my opinion, it’s not the end of the world. Town centres not only survive because there is a M&s,” he says. “There needs to be a change in how we put together our urban centers, and if we rely on retail we have a problem”.

Clifford is proud of tori, who loves Theresa may, but some measures are being taken regardless of the market radical Orthodoxy. With the help of loans and housing subsidies from Westminster, Rushmoor is the purchase of a building on Union Street. He now owns as woolworths, blockbuster and the other two units, and using the threat of compulsory purchase to buy more. “We are a conservative Board, but if I leave it on the market will need 20 years,” says Clifford. Instead, the Council wants to speed up plans to turn an empty upstairs storage rooms in apartments and empty stores in the “flexible” retail units. There are plans to replace the Mall-the Ghost of fewer shops and 400 homes. Clifford also wants to reconfigure the upper end of Union Street.

What was the last thing Clifford bought in Aldershot? He thinks for a while. “I think it was some novelty socks,” he says. Leader of the Council is betting on a resurgent attendance thanks to his intervention, and the construction of thousands of homes on the former army land on the outskirts of the city. He wants young families to move in; direct trains reach London in less than an hour. But there is the smell of chicken and egg about that hope. New residents can come to new stores, but the stores come back before the buyers? Clifford optimistic after hearing that the chain B&M is in negotiations to go to the website of m&s, but B & M to tell me that they will not do so. They refuse to confirm that they were in talks about the site, or to explain the decision to stay away.

Wade buys only rare cards in Aldershot. She hoped that civic pride that supported the campaign to save M&s will endure until things get better. At the same time, she could no longer bear to look at the abandoned store when she goes to her new job at tesco (childcare organization meant that it could not afford to go on another M&s). “I still say very few of my old clients and they still can’t believe he’s gone,” she says.

Wade said that 10 workers that do not move to other branches remained mostly retail, including the Aldershot branch of boots (some refused to talk to me). She still says some of her former colleagues, and fondly recalls the camaraderie in Aldershot branch. “We lived here, mostly,” she adds, before stealing her two sons from school. “He became part of us.”

• The inscription on the second picture from the top has been changed to June 18, 2018, to correct the spelling of the name Kerryann Wade with Kellyanne.