A TOWN has been left reeling at news that its biggest high street store is to shut.

Beales, the only department store in Bishop Auckland, has confirmed it will close on January 23.

It is understood that staff were called into a meeting last week and told it would shut but could not say anything publicly until this week, when ‘closing down sale’ and ‘everything must go’ signs went up.

The Northern Echo:

The department store's closure is confirmed

The chairman of Beales, Stuart Lyons, said: “We are very disappointed that we will have to close our Beales store in Bishop Auckland after Christmas.

“Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, it has not proved possible to trade profitably here.

“We would like to thank all our staff for their hard work and loyalty, and our customers for their continuing support.”

The department store group has been in financial difficulty for some time but bosses have taken steps they say will return it to profit shortly.

This has included rent reductions and store closures, of which Bishop Auckland is one casualty.

People in the town are now keen that a new occupant can be found for the landmark Newgate Street building, which used to be a Co-op.

Durham County Councillor for Bishop Auckland, Joy Allen, said: “This is disappointing if not unexpected news following the company’s widely reported financial difficulties earlier in the year.

“The store itself is in a prime location and unlike the majority of the retail units in the town, it could accommodate a large retailer’s floor space demands.

“I know I am speaking for everyone in the town when I say I would like to see the return of Marks and Spencer food and clothing business.

“However, I will be working with the council and the town to promote the opportunity and attract investors.”

Bishop Auckland Town Councillor Alan Anderson is chairman of Bishop Auckland Town Team, a voluntary group of traders, residents and councillors which works on initiatives to improve the town centre.

He said: “This is a big blow to Bishop Auckland and will leave a big retail hole in the centre, I feel sorry for the staff who will lose their jobs.

“However, I remain hopeful that with all the other developments in the town like Auckland Castle and Kynren someone can take it on.”

The shop, which sells clothing, home wares, toys and has a restaurant, has been through a series of changes in the past decade.

The Co-operative Society sold it to Anglia Regional Cooperative Society in 2006 which re-launched it as Westgate, then in 2011 it was taken over by Beales.