Shock as three big-name retailers close down stores in the same shopping village

Next, Freeport Braintree. Picture: Jessica Hill

Next, Freeport Braintree. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

There were tears today as Next closed down its only clearance outlet in East Anglia - and it’s not the only retailer shutting up shop at the outlet village.

Freeport Braintree Next sign. Picture: Jessica Hill

Freeport Braintree Next sign. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

The large Next clearance outlet store at Freeport Braintree is closing its doors for the last time at 7pm tonight, after 13 years of trading at the popular shopping centre.

It was the only Next clearance outlet in East Anglia.

The nearest one now to our region is in Romford, but that too will be shutting down in March, according to staff at the Freeport store.

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Betty Barclay store, Freeport Braintree. Picture: Jessica Hill

Betty Barclay store, Freeport Braintree. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

In-store sales declined for the retail chain Next by 9.2% in the last quarter of 2018, and times have been hard for many retail chains lately as fierce competition from online companies takes a bite out of profits.

But the closure of the store at Freeport Braintree does not appear to be down to poor sales.

The store’s manager said the Freeport store was a busy one, with plenty of footfall. “We took so much money over Christmas week, it was unbelievable - we took over £100,000 that week, much more than we’d expected,” they said.

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“Our customers are shocked that we’re closing.”

The reason for the closure is because work is due to start soon on a big revamp of the Freeport shopping centre, with new retail space created and a huge shake up of the design and layout, including a new footpath linking the village to the nearby train station.

Freeport Braintree, which is a pedestrianised shopping village on Chapel Hill in Braintree, is made up of 70 stores and nine food and drink outlets.

It is owned by Landsec, which operates a string of retail parks and shopping centres across the UK.

“Next didn’t want to leave - we had a lease for another year, but we came to an agreement with Freeport’s managers to end it,” a Next staff member explained. “This building is going to be two storeys and Ralph Lauren is coming in here.”

A soon-to-be-built 1,290 sqm retail unit at Freeport known as the Anchor will be leased out to Ralph Lauren.

Josef O’Sullivan, Centre Manager at Freeport Braintree, said: “We are continually evolving as a centre to ensure our guests have the best possible experience. Heading into our 20th year, we will be embarking on some exciting transformations that will provide new shopping and dining experiences. As a day-out destination for shoppers from both Braintree and further afield, it is important that we continue expanding our offering to become an even more vibrant and stylish outlet centre.”

A Next store manager claims that Freeport Braintree’s operators “want it to be a designer outlet,” adding - “we’re not designer enough, apparently.”

In the same building as Next, the British menswear retailer Jack Wills is closing down its store too to make way for the new development- on Valentine’s Day, a member of staff there revealed.

Jack Wills, which also operates stores in Ipswich, Aldeburgh, Southwold and Chelmsford, had a turbulent year in 2018, and earlier this month, its lenders reportedly called in advisers to assess the fashion retailer’s financial position.

Just a short stroll away from Next and Jack Wills at Freeport, the women’s retail store Betty Barclay is shutting up shop on Thursday.

Although another branch of Betty Barclay will remain open in Chelmsford, the Freeport branch was the only Betty Barclay clearance outlet store in the region. The nearest will now be in Spalding, in Lincolnshire.

“We haven’t been told the reasons why we’re closing,” said a member of staff. “It was all rather unexpected - we don’t know if it’s whether our lease has run out, or because of footfall issues.”

And the Starbucks coffee shop at Freeport is also closing down at the end of this month.

A member of staff there, Nicola Drury, said: “We’re closing due to lots of different things. They have offered us positions in other stores, so they have tried to help us out as much as they can.

“We are sorry to be leaving Freeport.”

The final day was an emotional one for staff at Next as they counted down the hours until closing time at 7pm.

“It’s a real shame - just so sad,” said one retail assistant there, who explained she had been working at Next for two years at weekends while studying at university. “Not many people knew we were closing until this week, and we only found out in early December - it’s been really quick.”

Although a Next spokesman was reported by another newspaper to have said that all staff at the Freeport Next store are being relocated to other local stores, the store manager denied that this was the case.

“We have quite a few staff who now haven’t got jobs to go to,” they said.

“It’s hard to find jobs at the moment, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in Braintree these days. It’s tough times for retail - especially in January, because a lot of shops have just let their Christmas temps go, they’re not looking to recruit.”

A customer visiting the Next store on the last day of opening, Sandy Rudford, from Braintree, expressed her sadness that the outlet was closing.

“Like most people, I tend to buy a lot of stuff online these days - though not so much clothes,” she said.

“There’s not much in Braintree town centre there anymore, we’ve pretty much lost the market there, and I have to go into Chelmsford or Colchester for decent shopping now. It’s just not like it used to be.”

In other developments, Burger joint Five Guys is opening a branch at the retail park near Freeport Braintree in the coming months.