By Harry Mottram: Bath has lost several retailers in the last few months with the latest one set to close this month when River Island in St Lawrence Street shuts its doors. Along with stores in Harrogate, Shrewsbury, Lancaster and Lemington Spa the Lewis family who own River Island began a so-called restructuring process in 2020 cutting some 300 jobs, seeing the departure of the CEO, a £50m loss in 2021 and the closing of 20 or more of its 270 stores. According to Retail Week the firm is now on a safer financial footing after seeing the increase in online shopping and a slump in footfall in its shops plateau.
The store has a long history beginning back in 1948 in London as Lewis Separates fascia, rebranding as it grew to 70 branches in 1965 to Chelsea Girl. The 1980s saw it launch Concept Man as a brand before bringing both that and Chelsea girl under its current name. Despite the closure in Bath the chain has 250 stores left across the UK and around the world as well as concessions in other retailers.
In its place seems likely to be its competitor Zara. Bath Voice understands it is set to open later this year. Zara began life in Spain in the 1970s as a fashion store but now has more than 2,000 branches worldwide with one in Bristol and one in Cardiff.
Bath Live reported Guy Henderson, centre director at Southgate Bath, as saying: “We’re always looking to bring new brands and experiences to South Gate Bath to complement the great mix of stores, restaurants, bars and cinema we already have. We’re incredibly excited to be welcoming Zara to the city – it’s a well-known and much-loved brand, and I’m sure it will be hugely popular with visitors when it opens.”
For many residents the focus of Bath’s retailing offering has shifted south over the years since South Gate opened in 2009 and 2010 away from Milsom Street. There has been criticism of the Council’s policy of ending Milsom Street as a busy road for traffic – as having a negative effect on retailers – but South Gate, Stall Street and Union Street are all traffic free. Perhaps it is best to say that shopping habits and where and what people buy changes over the decades just as fashions and tastes change and evolve.
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