'Nothing can replace John Lewis' - what Sheffield shoppers really think as city institution closes for good
Sheffield shoppers say ‘nothing can replace’ the closure of the city centre’s iconic John Lewis department store as they reacted to the final closure of the retailer.
The decision not to reopen in Sheffield and seven other locations following the end of lockdown was first made by John Lewis in March, but was confirmed for good earlier this week.
The store, known as Cole Brothers until 2002, has been a presence opposite Sheffield City Hall since 1963 and its predecessor Cole Brothers dated back to 1847.
Shoppers today told the Telegraph that its closure was a ‘disaster’ for the high street, with some even calling for others to boycott the brand.
Barbara, aged 75, and 77-year-old Michael Sowbry have lived in Sheffield all their lives.
Barbara said: "It’s a disaster for the high street.
“For the 70 years we have been here, there has always been the presence of Cole Brothers or John Lewis.
“Nothing can replace it, myself and everyone we have spoken to were horrified and disbelieving when it happened.
"Now that Covid is not dominating, Sheffield regulars should gather here and organise to show John Lewis management that Sheffield is not going to lie down and take it.
"The public should boycott the online store and then they may realise.”
Michael said: “We came to John Lewis because it was clean, there was a nice ambiance, and welcoming staff.
"Now that Debenhams has closed on the moor and at Meadowhall, the only department store now in town is Atkinsons.”
City resident Lee Pitts, aged 45, added: “You have sentiment for this place, it’s a big chain organisation but it’s got a warm feeling.
"I still call it the Cole Brothers. It should be replaced by a retail outlet but the numbers say its not feasible.
"I don’t want it to be replaced by other chains, we’ve already got chains.
“They could make Sheffield like Leeds and Manchester, and have lots of independent shops which bring something interesting to the city.”
Department stores have especially suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Debenhams also closing the last of its stores in May.
Visiting shopper Angela McCallan said: “These big closures are killing the high street. My sister works in retail and she says they’re not moving with the times.
"Amazon is killing a lot of stores, and Covid was the final nail in the coffin.
"I like the physical aspect of being in a store, I can touch and feel things and it’s a day out.
“I don’t think anything can replace John Lewis, as it’s a piece of heritage.”
The move of consumers to online shopping, which was exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, saw 70 per cent of John Lewis sales made online in 2020 according to reports.
Francis Patrick Ford moved to Sheffield from Dublin in 2017.
He said: “I have a private account with John Lewis, I used it to furnish my flat in Kelham Island.
"All my family have shopped there for generations.
“I know nothing about shopping, that’s why I use the services they provide, including the highly trained and treasured staff.
"I don’t want to be talking to a machine, online is not as good as the high street for me.”
Paulette Forbes-Williams added: “Sheffield without John Lewis is like a bacon butty without bacon.”
Coun Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield City Council, said that the council is developing the city centre, introducing new bars, restaurants and retail stores, to ensure that it remains an popular space for everyone to enjoy.
Coun Terry Fox said: “Sheffield is a strong and resilient city and regeneration work is underway across the city centre to rejuvenate the area to make sure that it meets the needs of the people who live, work and visit there.
"Through Heart of the City and Future High Streets developments, work is taking place all around the Barker’s Pool site – including introducing a game changing independent food and retail scene along Cambridge Street – which has been specifically designed to be flexible to adapt to the ever changing landscape of the high street.
“We are delivering new homes, flexible office space, places to eat and drink and new leisure destinations, supported by new retailers, to bring people into the area in an age of online shopping.
"High quality green public spaces, such as Pound’s Park, will make the city centre an attractive place to visit with opportunities beyond shopping.
"Whilst retail will remain an important part of what the city centre has to offer, it will be complemented by new bars, restaurants and event spaces that will provide a collective experience for everyone to enjoy.
“We know that confirmation of the closure of John Lewis will be sad news for the staff affected and we will work with our local partners, including Jobcentre Plus, to provide as much support as possible to those who need it.
“Crucially, the Council now owns the Cole Brothers building. This means the building is in the hands of the city.
"We have been really encouraged to see so many positive suggestions from people about how we can use the site in the future.
“In the short term a lot of work needs to be carried out by building surveyors, who need to look at the interior and exterior of the building.
"A building of this size and age is complicated. Any decisions on what to do with the building and the site will be shaped by a lot of technical detail.
“We know that local people will be keen for plans for the building and site to be confirmed quickly but it is important that we get this right.
"The Council will shortly be providing opportunities for local people to feed in their ideas.
“We plan to come back with more information towards the end of this year and will be extremely keen to engage with the Sheffield community to help us evolve and take forward any plans to create something important for the city.”