Some retailers will not reopen in Blyth following Keel Row Shopping Centre closure
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Bonmarché will be the final shop in the centre to close, on Tuesday, February 20, while Superdrug has already closed for good.
Of the centre’s tenants when its closure and demolition was announced in July, only Card Factory has opened elsewhere in the town.
Staff at EE, closing on February 10, have been told the mobile network operator will look for a new location in the town. The Works, which is already closed, also said it is looking for a new Blyth location.
The Northumberland Gazette has had no updates on the plans of other retailers that previously had Keel Row outlets.
A Superdrug spokesperson said: “‘Superdrug does not currently have plans to open a store in the Blyth area but would like to thank all local customers for their support.
“The closest Superdrug store to Blyth is located in Manor Walks Shopping Centre or customers can shop our wide range of health and beauty products online.”
The store manager of Bonmarché, Jacqueline Bate, was informed in mid-December that her shop would not be reopened elsewhere and that all its staff would be made redundant. She learned of the centre’s planned demolition from news reports.
Jacqueline, who has worked at Bonmarché in Blyth since Keel Row opened over 30 years ago, said: “My team in here, the girls, are wonderful. They are not just a store team, they are a little family that always support each other through thick and thin.
“They are broken-hearted to be leaving the customers, because the customers come in and they talk to us. Customers are very loyal to the store. We see the same people week on week.”
She added: “We are really devastated to lose them and we are sorry that we are not going to be here for them anymore.
“We appreciate so much the support they have given us over the years and thank them ever so much for all the lovely words that we have had since they heard that we were closing down.”
Some customers were “in tears” after learning the store was not reopening, Jacqueline said. She has “no idea” why the shop is not reopening elsewhere in Blyth, and a petition with 2,000 signatures was sent to Bonmarché’s head office calling for a change of heart.
Without Bonmarché there will be very few clothing retailers remaining in the town centre.
Jacqueline, who lives in Blyth, said: “There is nothing for childrenswear, there is no menswear, there is nothing for bigger size ladies, older ladies. There is not a choice. There is nothing. I think it is just devastating the town.
She added: “Unfortunately it is not just us. None of the stores in here have stayed, which is scary. It seems to reflect what businesses think Blyth is going to turn into.”
Northumberland County Council purchased the centre from Northumberland Estates last year and has previously said this allowed the centre to stay open for months longer.
Possibilities for the site once the centre is demolished include a higher education facility supporting the renewable energy industry, car parking, and a hotel.
Speaking last week, Cllr Wojciech Ploszaj, cabinet member for business, insisted retail “remains an important part” of Blyth and said the council’s redevelopment plans will “make the town a more welcoming, safe, and popular place to visit.”
Jacqueline acknowledged the proposals sound positive for young people that want to work in the renewables industry, but remained sceptical regarding the state of Blyth’s retail.
She said: “It is going to bring money into the town, but where are they going to spend it?
“There is no retail for them. I just do not see how that is going to work.”
Once Bonmarché closes, Jacqueline, who will soon turn 65, plans to retire.
She said: “I thought there is no point in me trying to look for something else at this stage of my life. My life is in retail and there is no retail. It does not exist anymore.
“I just feel sorry for the girls. They still want jobs and it has taken away massively the options.
“All of the shops in the centre have had that same blow. It is not just us.”