WITNEY'S high street is strong enough to 'absorb' the closure of Debenhams, says the group representing town traders.

The store on Marriotts Walk will shut next year as part of the company's first wave of store closures since entering administration, bosses announced on Friday.

Debenhams could not confirm how many jobs would be lost in Witney, but said it would try to 'redeploy' as many staff as possible.

It follows the closure of several independent businesses in the town, with changing shopping patterns and rising costs forcing many traders to shut.

Read again: Clothing store shuts after 107 years in Witney

Eleanor Martin, chairman of Witney Chamber of Commerce, said that while the closure was a 'blow', the town would continue to 'punch above its weight'.

She said: "Witney is a pretty resilient place right now, and I have no doubt it can absorb these changes.

"The town is growing, with thousands of houses to be completed in the next few years, and our town-centre parking is plentiful and free.

"So whatever the problems, for a town of its size, Witney very much punches above its weight.

"Our excellent town and district councils both believe that a prosperous high street is important if Witney is to stay on track, and allow them to provide for all the other things that make for a good quality of life in the town.

"We, the traders of Witney, working through the Chamber of Commerce and with the councils, will continue to offer the very best shopping experience we can to visitors to the high street."

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The Marriotts Walk branch is one of 22 stores that will close on an unconfirmed date next year, with about 1,200 jobs on the line across the country.

A company statement said employees were informed of the closure on the morning of the announcement, but staff are not allowed to speak to the press individually.

The store was quiet when the Witney Gazette visited on Monday afternoon, but shoppers were nonetheless disappointed at the news.


One customer, Robert Russell, a 21-year-old who lives on Deer Park, said: “It’s a shame the store is closing, Debenhams is a massive part of this shopping centre.

“It’s a surprise because it seems to get a lot of footfall through the shopping centre, so it will be a loss - especially as there aren’t many places to get men’s clothes in Witney.”

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Another regular customer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It’s just the way of the world, there’s so many people who don’t go shopping anymore and just do it online.

“It offers an awful lot that you can’t get anywhere else. I think it’ll eventually come back, but they can’t wait for that.”

But another shopper, named Claire, admitted she would not miss the Witney branch.

She said: “For me, it’s too small to be useful, so if I want something from Debenhams I tend to go into Oxford.

“I like the fact it’s here, but I don’t use it. I’m hoping a good shop will come in that’s useful.”

In the last two months, Rosa Flowers and Keates of Witney clothing store have both shut their doors, adding to the list of independents to close in the town in recent years.

West Oxfordshire district councillor for Witney Central, Andrew Coles, whose ward includes Marriotts Walk, feared for the futures of more businesses.

Read again: Can Debenhams in Oxford survive?

He said: “I’m desperately saddened to hear that Debenhams is closing, as a regular customer myself I know what a blow it will be to shoppers and my thoughts are very much with the local people currently employed there.

“Our high streets, and the local economy generally, are really struggling.

“You only need to look at the number of shops and businesses that have closed recently.

“Our much-valued independents are having an especially difficult time.”

Debenhams bosses have taken out a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which allows the retailer to restructure and often involves closing 'underperforming' stores.

Its Oxford branch, on George Street, has so far survived, although another 28 branches are set to close over the next three years.