How the department store went out of fashion

Back outside, the atmosphere was less dynamic. Oxford Street footfall has fallen by 70% in the past two years; many household names have closed (Debenhams, House of Fraser, Top Shop).

“Look for!” I kept saying, as my daughter’s eyes fixed on another spooky American candy store. “Look out for very tall buildings. This was formerly Bourne & Hollingsworth.

“Mom. It’s a next one.

“That was not the case before. It’s Art Deco. Mid twenties. Your grandparents used to meet under this clock. See at the top.”

We stopped in front of House of Fraser and its “Closing Down Sale” signs. At the end of the week, this once extremely trusting emporium would close its doors for good. For the sake of education, I propelled my daughter inside.

We have lost 83% of UK department stores over the past six years. Some 237 buildings are currently empty and aimless, proof of the seismic change in our shopping habits. It’s hard to believe that cherished independents such as Jenners of Edinburgh, founded in 1838, and Boswells of Oxford, trading since 1738, have gone out of business for good. When the pandemic began to decimate our remaining department stores, it felt like a pivotal moment in history: a time to take stock of the rapidly disappearing past. We lose them as physical places, but we also lose their stories – as evidenced by the extensive Debenhams archive, currently stored in emergency storage without public access, its fate uncertain.