This week saw a new Marks and Spencer store unveiled on one of the most prominent locations in south Belfast’s bustling Lisburn Road.
Last September it was announced that M &S Simply Food would be relocating from their small Lisburn Road premises to the larger nearby Co-op site across the road.
The Co-op ‘superstore’ had been a familiar fixture on the road for years but suffered declining sales in recent times.
Towards the end of its tenure last year, the building fell into disrepair amid complaints that the company could no longer afford the upkeep of the premises.
The M&S store was, in contrast, always busy but confined to a small building with a limited car park at the rear.
After the M&S announcement of the buy-out plan, the shop invited the employees at the Co-op to retain their jobs and become employees at the new Marks and Spencers store in a ‘transfer of employees’ agreement. An additional 30 jobs were created by the move to help staff the new larger store, making a total of 75 jobs.
The M&S shop is 11,000 sq ft and includes a 50 seater cafe with its own outdoor seating area and in store bakery.
Crowds of keen shoppers gathered outside the store on Wednesday as store manager Conor McLoughlin cut the ribbon and declared the new shop open for business.
The move reflects a wider M&S policy to roll out more Simply Food stores across the UK. In May, M&S Chief Executive Marc Bolland explained that despite a 3.9 per cent overall drop in profits in 2013-14, the Simply Food market rose 4.2 per cent in profit.
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But this takeover of the Lisburn Road Co-Op site is a reminder that the closure of one business is often the beginning of another.
I once lived metres from both the Co-Op and the old M&S, and was fond of both. But Co-Op had limited stock and its customers seemed to rattle around on their own, while M&S was mostly crammed. Competition for its six parking spaces was bitter.
Takeover was a logical expansion for the more popular store (so popular that going there was a social event for some regulars). M&S has space. Co-Op jobs have been saved. Customers and staff seem happy.