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Lowestoft businessman's new department store succeeds where Mary Portas didn't

PUBLISHED: 18:00 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:27 09 December 2016

Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb and businessman Andrew Kerry at the official opening of Kerry's department store in Lowestoft. Picture by: ANDREW PAPWORTH.

Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb and businessman Andrew Kerry at the official opening of Kerry's department store in Lowestoft. Picture by: ANDREW PAPWORTH.

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When even retail guru Mary Portas could not save a long-running independent, family-run coastal department store, there was great anxiety about the future a key town centre site.

Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb and businessman Andrew Kerry at the official opening of Kerry's department store in Lowestoft. Picture by: ANDREW PAPWORTH.Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb and businessman Andrew Kerry at the official opening of Kerry's department store in Lowestoft. Picture by: ANDREW PAPWORTH.

But now, a Norfolk businessman has succeeded where the “Queen of Shops” did not - and established a brand new department store on the very site where its predecessor closed.

The old Godfreys store, in Suffolk Road, Lowestoft had long faced a difficult financial situation. But its closure in September 2015 concerned many in the town, not least because Godfreys itself claimed fewer people were coming into the town centre and criticised the area’s “changing road system”.

Even Miss Portas couldn’t turn the business around, meaning it was put on the market for £900,000 - with uncertainty about whether one of the town centre’s largest units would be filled.

However it was one phonecall from Mattressman owner Andrew Kerry which changed the fortunes of the site - and, many say, gave a much-needed show of confidence to the town.

Andrew Kerry inside the new department store. Picture: NICK BUTCHERAndrew Kerry inside the new department store. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Mr Kerry was looking for a replacement location for his successful Mattressman Lowestoft store when the firm’s previous premises were redeveloped.

During the phonecall, he was persuaded to look round the old Godfreys site - and, as an experienced businessman, spotted an opportunity that was too good to miss.

Several visits to John Lewis for research followed and, within nine months, the new Kerry’s department store opened its doors.

Furniture, carpets, kitchen and bedding departments of the store have opened over that time, with the final piece of the jigsaw - a new coffee bar - being unveiled last week.

The former Godfreys store in Lowestoft. Picture: NICK BUTCHERThe former Godfreys store in Lowestoft. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

With its upmarket brand such as Chippendale and David Gundry, the store has already impressed leading businessmen such as James Reeder, a former Chamber of Commerce chairman and Palmers department store manager.

“It is fantastic for Lowestoft,” he said, praising the store’s layout as “clean and fresh”.

And Danny Steel - chairman of Lowestoft Vision business improvement district, which manages the town centre - said existing department stores like Palmers and Beales should see Kerry’s as “an asset for the town”, not a threat.

He added: “When people get to know it’s here, it will become a destination shop.

“People will be coming here to see what they’ve got and that will benefit the other shops around.

John Cowan, team principal of Spirit Motorsport - who attended the official launch on Thursday (December 1), said it would “attract other investors” into the area, while Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb said: “It is showing great confidence in the town.”

Darren Newman, Lowestoft Vision manager, added: “Lots of people were worried when the previous Godfreys store closed down in quite a short space of time.

“We’ve had a new investor come in and make a massive impact - it is a stunning building with great products.”

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