Stay of execution: Marks & Spencer stays open until September


The British chain has announced it will close the store on Guldenvlieslaan, two years after it brought the iconic brand back to Belgium

Here today, gone tomorrow

Marks & Spencer, the iconic department store that expats (and not only the British) yearned for during 14 long years, has announced it will close again, but not before 30 September.

The High Street chain left Brussels in 2001, taking with it the pork pies and comfy underpants for which it has become famous. It returned to much fanfare in May 2015, the old Nieuwstraat premises traded up to a swish new development on Guldenvlieslaan. It shared a three-store block with Apple and Zara, with apartments on higher floors.

But it was not to last. “The shop in Brussels never quite met our expectations, and the market offers few opportunities for growth,” according to Amanda Mellor, director of Marks & Spencer Belgium, who last November said the store would close in May or June.

The latest news is something of a stay of execution. The store will remain open until the end of September to allow employees to be re-trained for new jobs, and for a new tenant to be found. This, of course, gives expats time to stock up on chicken tikka masala and proper British bacon.

Finding a new tenant could be tricky. The store is too huge at 5,000 square metres for most retailers, as is the rent of €10 million a year. And a company like Primark, which could fill the space, already has plans to move around the corner on the soon-to-be pedestrianised Elsensesteenweg.

Photo: Altiplan Architects

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Shirley FoxcastleJournalists always mock M&S for selling faintly ridiculous products such as "pork pies and comfy underpants". (What an unappetising juxtaposition!) The Food Department at M&S is very sophisticated, selling far more than pork pies and bacon, although it does also sell many Indian and Chinese (and Italian and British) ready meals. My quarrel with the fashion departments is that only the top ranges are represented, vying with Zara and Elsenesteenweg instead of supplying its old, quality staples such as chunky sweaters, warm dressing gowns and - yes - comfy or "sensible" underwear and leisurewear. M&S seems to be ashamed of its humble beginnings and to have designed its current palatial premises in a "folie de grandeur". How would did they ever hope to make a profit?

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