Emotions are running high as a much-loved Bury St Edmunds shop enters its final week of trading.
Palmers Fashion store, in the Buttermarket, will shut on January 20 after nearly 60 years in the town.
This week staff began counting down the days, while customers snapped up bargains at its closing down sale.
Giselle Roadley-Battin, store manager, said they were selling back to the bare walls, with even her desk already finding a new home.
Giselle has been associated with the shop since 1978, when she started as a window dresser.
“I’m trying not to think about the closure,” she said. “I’ve got to stay happy for the team here.”
Giselle said most staff who wanted new employment had found jobs, while some would move to the Homestore for its final months and others would take time off after the closure.
“A lot of the staff have wanted to stay until the end,” she said, adding that some former employees had returned in the final months to help out.
At one time 110 staff were employed across both Bury stores, but the figure now stands at about 60.
Andrea Herod, who has been with Palmers for nine years, has a new job at The Bodhi Tree, in the Traverse.
“It has been hard to find anywhere that I think will be as good to work for as Palmers,” she said. “We’re like a little family here and I’ve loved it. It has been the best job.”
Palmers has been operating for 180 years, after Garwood Burton Palmer and his brother opened a shop in Great Yarmouth in 1837. The company is now run by his great great nephew and niece, chairman Bruce Sturrock and fashion director Wendy Cole.
“It has been a sad time for the whole company to say goodbye to Palmers fashion. It was the last thing the director wanted to do. The fact that we owned the building meant we carried on longer, as we only had the business rates to worry about,” said Giselle.
Palmers opened its Bury fashion store under a different name in 1959, before bringing it under the Palmers brand in 1961. The Homestore, in St Andrew’s Street, opened in 1998.
Palmers had hoped to move into the arc, but in 2003 St Edmundsbury Borough Council voted to give Debenhams the prime site.
“It is a wonderful family to work for and they are doing this (closing in Bury) to keep Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft going,” said Giselle.
“I don’t think people realise how good Palmers was. But it’s like anything – if you don’t use it, you lose it.
“When people did come in they loved the interaction with the staff. It is very sad for the town centre.”
Christine Cornelius, sales assistant, is planning on having some time off after starting at Palmers 14 years ago.
“It was totally different back then – it was really busy. The footfall has definitely gone down,” said Christine. “Retail has changed so much and customers don’t expect to receive the service we provide. They expect to go in a shop and have to find someone, while we go out of our way to help.”
Mandy Stone, who has worked for Palmers for six years, said: “It is very sad to see it go and our regulars are sad too. But the drop in customers has been noticeable – everyone’s looking for a bargain, that’s the trouble,” she said.
Sales assistant Emma Brown, who has worked at the shop for six years, said: “It is the end of an era. I have enjoyed my time with Palmers and I am going to miss everyone: the customers and the staff.”
The Palmers fashion site has been sold to Bury-based property company Pigeon Investment Management, which is looking for new tenants.
Palmers Homestore, in St Andrew’s Street, is due to remain open until April 20. There is planning permission to turn the site into a mixed retail/residential scheme.
Giselle said the Homestore’s restaurant had always been successful, with turnover maintained in recent years.
“For many customers, it is like an extension to their living room,” she added.
And Giselle’s plans once both shops have closed?
“I think at the end of April I will just run away for a month and then decide what to do,” she said.