Chichester House of Fraser: Department store faces 'existential crisis', report says

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A former Chichester department store is facing an 'existential crisis' thanks to the pandemic and rapidly changing shopping patterns, a new report suggests.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage, a small charity campaigning to rescue old buildings, published its 'Departing Stores' report today (Monday, April 4).

The report documents the 'finest examples' of British department stores, the challenges facing them, and what can be done to 'reinvent' them for the modern day.

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The study goes on to mention the House of Fraser site in West Street which was one of several sites across the country which were forces to close in early 2019 after the company went into administration.

West Street, Chichester. Picture via Google StreetviewWest Street, Chichester. Picture via Google Streetview
West Street, Chichester. Picture via Google Streetview

Following its closure, the Grade II listed building was bought by Incerceptor Opportunity Ltd.

The company has told this newspaper that it will retain an active frontage and are in talks with Chichester District Council about the development.

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Owners hint at what's in store for Chichester House of Fraser site

While the consultation process is still on going, a spokesman for the company, Paul Pressland, made assurances that there will be an 'active frontage' saying that residents could expect to see retailers filling spaces on the ground floor.

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Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “London has Fortnums, Harrods and Selfridges but all over Britain provincial cities, county towns, spas and seaside resorts boast handsome department stores built on proud corner sites or set prominently on high streets.

"Many were designed by local architects of note and founded by leading local families and all destinations in themselves. Yet a decade of online shopping and Covid have brought an avalanche of closures. A race is now on to put life back into them. It’s a tough challenge but as Hattie Lloyd’s report shows there is hope too.”

The report says the red brick building was designed in 1904 by Sir Reginal Bloomfield and was built as the Oliver Whitby School, originally founded in 1702 and which remained on the site until 1950.

It adds: "Hints of its prior use survive in the gold-lettered school motto, Vis et Sapentia, carved into the first storey, and the cartouche bearing the arms of Oliver Whitby above the doorway.

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"The department store J. D. Morant had been operating in Southsea since 1910, but was destroyed during the Blitz in January 1941. The business moved to Chichester and into St. George’s House, later expanding into the rest of the school after it closed in 1950.

"Morants was acquired by Army & Navy Stores in 1955, itself taken over by House of Fraser in 1973. The store was one of several branches to close in early 2019 after the company

went into administration.

"The site was sold at the end of the year to Interceptor Opportunities Ltd., who have promised to retain an active frontage but are pursuing a mixed-use model. Currently they are thought to be in talks with the council about the possible scope of redevelopment. The building, meanwhile, has been sitting vacant for almost four years."

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