NEWPORT'S landmark Debenhams store opened up its doors for the first time since the start of the coronavirus lockdown today.

The company had said it would not be able to re-open the store in Friars Walk unless a Welsh Government business rates relief scheme was extended to cover larger stores.

But, following lobbying by the Argus and other campaigners to secure the future of the branch - the 'anchor store' of Friars Walk - the business came to an agreement with Newport City Council to defer its business rates until later in the year, meaning it was able to welcome customers back for the first time in months today, Tuesday - one day after non-essential stores in Wales were allowed to re-open.

Social distancing is in place and all staff have been issued visors, gloves, PPE, and general Covid-19 safety measures, while customers are asked to sanitise their hands as they enter. Customers are only able to enter through the door at the front of the store in order to control the number of people inside at any one time - the entrance by the bus stop is closed.

South Wales Argus:

(Markings on the floor are for social distancing and tills have plastic shields up)

The store is also currently not offering services including makeovers, browsing of makeup, perfume testing and travel money, while clothes cannot be tried on in-store, and the restaurant and toilets in Friars Walk are closed.

Speaking as the store opened its doors, manager, David Lodge, said: “There is a real sense of community in this store. The team had a long period off but are committed in terms of their return.

South Wales Argus:

(Jane Mudd and David Lodge)

“It feels really safe and the staff are doing a really good job. We want to give back and give the best service we can.


“We got the staff in a couple of days before and all were allocated a personal shield, and all felt comfortable to come back.”

South Wales Argus:

(Staff came in a few days before opening to prepare)

While the store was shut all but but two members of staff were put on furlough, with employees now making staggered returns, except for those with health conditions or caring for other family members.

Jane Mudd, leader of Newport City Council, attended the opening and said that Debenhams is an “anchor store for Friars Walk”.

“I’m delighted that Debenhams is able to reopen and really pleased that Newport City Council have been able to support them," she said. “This store means a lot to the city, both in terms of employment and retail. I would encourage residents to come in and have a look and shop with confidence, as they can do in Newport city centre."

Debenhams chairman Mark Gifford had said the company's Welsh stores would not re-open unless a cap on business rates support, meaning companies with a rateable value of more than £500,000 were not eligible, was scrapped. No such cap is in place in England.

The Newport store has a rateable value of £510,000.