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Thursday, 18 September 2014

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Hopes £1 million revamp of Dixon's store will kick-start Whitehaven economy

WHITEHAVEN’S only department store is in line for a near £1 million makeover – and owner Donald Dixon hopes it will also help spark a revival in the town’s retail fortunes and sustain jobs.

He also wants the £975,000 refurbishment to link in with Whitehaven’s major transformation scheme such as the £20 million Albion Square, £10 million harbourside complex and Tesco’s £20million superstore.

With a 130-year history, J Dixon & Son is one of Whitehaven’s oldest surviving businesses. Now the firm is embarking on a complete refurbishment of its Lowther Street store.

Mr Dixon said: “The warehouse needs a new roof so we will completely clear stock and at the same time re-do our store.”

He has previously invested millions at Workington to establish the Dunmail Park retail centre and the Plaza cinema complex. Directly and indirectly the firm is one of West Cumbria’s biggest employers offering around 300 jobs – 40 staff are on the payroll at Whitehaven.

On the Whitehaven store makeover, Mr Dixon said: “We must keep up to date, be competitive and give people everything they expect to see in a modern department store.

“Our staff are delighted we are going to do things, especially at a time when a lot of shops are closing. It’s their jobs at stake. They want people to shop in Whitehaven.”

A recent survey of Cumbria’s retail trade showed Whitehaven to be one of the worst-hit in the county for shop closures.

Asked what has given him the confidence to invest in the town, Mr Dixon, 77, said: “There’s a lot going on here, more so than many other towns – Albion Square, the new Tesco, which hopefully will get off the ground soon (we have been promised it for a long time now) and also the other work going in Strand Street/Mark House for the harbour complex. All this does give us confidence in Whitehaven.

“Are we bucking the trend? Well there’s no point in standing still, you either go up or down, it’s a case for us of running fast to keep up.

“We do want something that’s suitable and sustainable for the future, for the people of Whitehaven and West Cumbria.”

A member of the a development group helping in efforts to promote the town, Mr Dixon went on: “Whitehaven itself has a unique atmosphere, a lot of work is being done to add vibrancy. I hope in the future many more people are going to support Whitehaven – Whitehaven jobs and Whitehaven shops.

“It’s not pleasant to walk along a street with so many empty or boarded-up shops. We hope our own investment will help. I know the council and others are working hard. While it is important that everybody co-operates, the biggest help is for locals to do their best to shop in Whitehaven. If we are up to date and doing better then that can only be good for shops and employment.”

Over five days this week Dixon’s will opens its doors for the massive disposal sale.

“We have to keep looking for new suppliers – some are already going out of business the same way as retailers – so we are in the market for new suppliers, new ranges and to be as up to date as possible.

J Dixon & Son incorporates Miss Selfridge and Top Shop, but as for new franchises the owner said: “Unfortunately once you mention West Cumbria people put it rather low down on the list. We are trying to convince them by our own efforts to improve things, that they should put Whitehaven, and West Cumbria, on their list of opportunities.”

The store will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week for the disposal sale to the general public. Special customers have had a special invitation to shop yesterday and today.

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