HEXHAM’S flagship department store will retain its prominent presence in the town centre, following a surprise announcement that it no longer plans to close its doors for good.

Beales, formerly known as Robb’s, on Fore Street, was set to close on Saturday, ending more than a century of trading in the town.

But now it has been announced that following a short closure of around a week, the store will reopen at the end of the month – albeit in a different format.

Crucially, Hexham’s Post Office, which currently operates inside the store, will remain in place.

Chief executive officer at Beales Tony Brown said: “We still wanted to be in Hexham; we like Hexham. I think the fact for us was the operating costs of the store were simply too high to make a profit, but we have come to an arrangement with the landlord and NCC to allow us to stay open.”

As a result, Mr Brown said the store would close for a “significant refit” and reopen in a new format. This would mean a smaller section of the store would be taken up, with the top floors, where bedding, toys and ladies fashion are currently, set to be closed off.

Although Mr Brown said there would be a “number of redundancies” he said these were still being worked through and was unable to say how many staff would lose their jobs.

When the refit is completed it will see an expansion of homeware as well as a “significant” expansion to the furniture and mattresses section. The location of the current food hall is set to become an outlet furniture base.

Meanwhile cosmetics have been taken out, although fragrances will remain, and there is planned to be an expansion of outlet fashion retailers, with brands such as Dorothy Perkins and Burton also to remain in place. Shoes will stay but there will be a reduction of menswear.

And the store will retain its cafe, which is planned to be moved to the ground floor.

Trevor Cessford, county councillor for Hexham central and Acomb, said work had been taking place behind the scenes to figure out the future of the site and this was a “step in the right direction”.

“It’s very good news – particularly about the post office,” he said. “Hexham is not a small town and there are more elderly people who need to use a post office.” The long-term plan is for the site to be redeveloped, which Beales said it wanted to be part of. However no date has been given for this.

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