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Historic department store Bobby's to return to its original home in Debenhams Bournemouth site

Lauretta Roberts
10 May 2021

Historic department store Bobby's is set to make a return to its original site in the Dorset seaside town of Bournemouth, taking over a building currently occupied by collapsed retailer Debenhams.

Debenhams is due to close its doors for good in the town's main square this week but the former occupant, Bobby's, will be back in action by July with a new store that is set to transform the town centre.

Verve Properties, which specialises in sustainable, high end commercial and residential property transformations, is leading the development of the site, one of the town's most recognisable landmarks.

The first phase of Bobby's, re-opening in July, will include a new Beauty Hall, a traditional ice cream and coffee parlour, art gallery, and a dog café. The beauty hall will showcase local, sustainable, and conscious brands as well as household names.

There will also be a Sushi and plant-based Poke Bowl Bar, nail bar, treatment rooms and female and male grooming services, as well as spa facilities.

Other developments include a food market offering street food outlets, deli, bar and speciality retail market pods, as well as a garden area and roof-top terrace.

Verve will also seek to restore and uncover some of the site's original architectural features that had been covered up by Debenhams. Copper domes on the roof of the store will be repaired while balconies and flagpoles will also be reinstated. A 1933 front entrance will also be restored.

How the site currently looks

The site will open in stages from July, throughout the year and into 2022.

Verve's Ashley Nicholson told the Bournemouth Daily Echo: “If shoppers are going to be tempted back into town centres, retailers need to consider what kind of shopping experience people will want to happen in real life.

"Beauty, clothing and footwear are good examples of retail that people want to try out in person."

The original Bobby's which opened in the town in 1915

Bobby's operated in Bournemouth from 1915 until it became a Debenhams store in 1972. The Bobby & Co chain was founded in Margate in 1887 by Frederick James Bobby.

Branches subsequently opened up in specially selected towns, and in particular seaside towns, such as Eastbourne, Torquay, Bournemouth, Folestone, Exeter, Leamington Spa and Southport. The business also bought up a string of other historic department stores.

Frederick Bobby retired in 1927 and sold his business to the Drapery Trust, which was subsequently acquired by Debenhams. All Bobby's stores were eventually brought under the Debenhams brand umbrella.

News of the new store will be welcomed in Bournemouth, which has lost two major department stores in the past year. First, independent chain Beales, which was founded in the town in 1881, collapsed early in 2020 and then Debenhams' liquidation was announced at the end of 2020.

The Debenhams brand and website was acquired out of administration by online group Boohoo in January, however none of its stores were saved. Almost 100 Debenhams stores opened after lockdown to clear stock but they will all be closed for good in the coming days.


Beales Bournemouth

The former Beales site has been sold to a consortium of investors who plan to convert the site into a mixed commercial and residential scheme.

Bournemouth town centre is also home to a branch of House of Fraser, which was formerly known as Dingles.

Chief Operating Officer of Bournemouth Town Centre BID, Paul Kinvig, said of the return of Bobby's: “It really is wonderful to see the transformation planned for the building and a real vote of confidence for our town centre.

"It will be a major draw for residents and visitors alike and a great example of the past and the future working together. Sometimes you have to go back to move forward."

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