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The history of Stratford's first department store

Debenhams in High Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
Debenhams in High Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

The sad loss of Debenhams brings to an end the Grade II listed building’s long history as a department store, the very first to open in Stratford.

Designed by Healing and Overbury of Cheltenham to reflect the Georgian character of other parts of Stratford’s Historic Spine, the store was built in 1960 on the site of two separate buildings on High Street.

It became Stratford’s first department store, operating under the name J C Smith, a family-run business that originally started off as a draper’s shop on Wood Street.

By 1970 J C Smith was one of the town’s most successful ventures and celebrated its 100 anniversary with a lavish fortnight of special events and sales.

At the time its 24,000 square feet of retail space was the envy of other retailers in the town, as were its prominent entrances on two of Stratford’s busiest streets, High Street and Wood Street.

Although J C Smith became part of Debenhams in 1929, Stratford’s store traded under the J C Smith name for many years, until it was branded as a Debenhams at some point in the 1970s.

Over recent years the popularity of department stores nationally has waned and other big names in the sector such as BHS have already fallen by the wayside.

While Debenhams plans to keep at least 100 of its stores open when it emerges from its current administration process, the company’s association with Stratford has now been consigned to the history books.

This week many have taken to social media to express their sadness at the loss of one of the town’s retail stalwarts.

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