The H&M store in Ashford will close its doors for the last time today – and shoppers are being urged to head to the chain’s Canterbury store instead.
The Swedish fashion retailer has been part of the County Square shopping center since the £60m extension to the site opened in March 2008.
But the two-story unit will close for good at 4:00 p.m., pretty much ending 14 years of commerce in the city.
A sign in the window says shoppers can find everything they need at the Canterbury store, which is located in the town’s Whitefriars shopping centre.
A spokesman for the chain said: “At H&M we are continually reviewing our store portfolio, the decision to close the Ashford store was part of the long-term strategy to ensure we are offering our customers the best possible shopping experience in the right locations.
“Customers can continue to shop for quality fashion at the best price in our nearby stores or online at hm.com.”
The H&M closure is another blow to County Square, which Debenhams left in January 2020 and will lose Next in the autumn.
A spokesman for the center said: “We are obviously very sad that H&M is leaving us as they have been part of the center for so many years.
“We hope that the staff will find other positions elsewhere and are happy to support anyone who is still looking for a position if we know of other vacancies in the center.”
KentOnline revealed earlier this week how it found new owners for County Square, which was launched for £13.5million last year.
Jo James, managing director of Kent Invicta’s Sevington Chamber of Commerce, says the new team in charge needs to be given time to settle in.
“With the ongoing retail turmoil, city centers across the UK are having to find new uses to sit alongside traditional retail offerings and Ashford is no different,” she said.
“The new owners will have to work hard to keep the existing retailers on board while trying to attract new retailers.
“They need time to develop their strategy and approach; It’s not about short-term profit, what County Square needs is a sustainable strategy for the future.”
Woodchurch resident Rob Woods, a former manager of Ashford, Folkestone and Hastings town centre, says he is now worried about the town’s independent traders.
“While it’s disappointing that two well-known brands like H&M and Next recently announced their decision to close, it’s unhelpful to assume that this is a reflection of the city or a negative reaction to new owners,” he said.
“It’s probably a considered assessment of how much space they’ll need to meet face-to-face demand in the future, where they see their growth markets, and how much their current premises can help them integrate online and physical shopping.”
“With 11,000 store closures nationally in 2021 alone, I think it is inevitable that we will see more in 2022.
“My concern for Ashford now is the sustainability of the independent retailers who help define its character. You can no longer rely on the frequency of national names and so-called anchor shops.
“But you can learn from the experiences of the chain stores and work towards a business model that reflects changing buying habits, benefits from both types of shopping and promotes loyalty.
“Some may need support to do this, but there is an abundance of expertise at Ashford.”
For a long-read archive feature looking back at County Square’s history, click here