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Express & Star comment: Beatties is able to fire city into life

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

As new owner of House of Fraser, Mike Ashley is certainly coming out well and saying the right things.

What does the future hold for Beatties and House of Fraser after a takeover by Mike Ashley's Sports Direct?

Having bought the chain of 59 stores, which includes Beatties in Wolverhampton, the cash-rich businessman has outlined his vision for the future of the failing nationwide brand.

He wants House of Fraser to be the ‘Harrods of the High Street’, transforming the underinvested, soulless business into a successful chain of stores providing a personal shopping service with luxury brands.

But most significantly, Mr Ashley, who, it must be said, was interviewed by a reporter while on his way to the office, says he will keep 80 per cent of the stores open.

It’s been a rollercoaster for employees and the thousands of shoppers at Beatties who were told just weeks ago that the iconic store was to close before Christmas.

From tragedy and turmoil to hope and apprehension – now where?

At the very least, this takeover, this statement has given the 141-year-old store – described by MP Emma Reynolds as ‘one of the most beautiful department stores in the country’ – valuable breathing space.

It is now more important than ever that Wolverhampton as a city, and the surrounding towns, must come together and send a message out to Mr Ashley, putting straight to him the strong potential of the store and the exciting developments around it.

Any scepticism over Mr Ashley’s intervention must also be swept aside. Right now, he is the best, indeed the only, chance of keeping open a store which runs deep into the veins of the city’s history.

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In 1896 Beatties suffered a major fire and had to be rebuilt. Then, in 1912, a second fire struck, prompting another rebuild and the creation of the landmark department store at the centre of the area’s shopping experience.

For generations of local people it was the top shop, for its products and for the quality of its service.

Recent times have seen the toy and haberdashery departments go and the end of the annual Santa’s grotto.

Now Beatties must bounce back again, and provide the revitalising spark the city centre’s shopping needs.

Because without it, Wolverhampton, and the Black Country, will be much the poorer.

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