Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Shutting up shop after 150 years

By Jonathan Morris
BBC News South West

Rossiters has employed generations of Paignton people

Devon department store Rossiters will close on Saturday, after selling everything from pillow cases to picture frames for 150 years.

Closing down stickers occupy almost every inch of Rossiter's display windows which dominate Paignton town centre.

Railways brought tourists to resorts like Paignton for the first time
It is a sad sight for the many local people who have known the store, and a far cry from the optimism of its opening by two seamstress sisters, Jane and Sarah Rossiter, in 1858.

But after years of losses, the descendants of the Rossiter sisters made the decision to close it.

Nearly 100 staff will be made redundant and there will be a wide empty space among Paignton's town centre shops.

The store, which last made a profit two years ago, was expected to lose 100,000 this year.

Director Nigel Rossiter blames internet shopping and out of town shopping centres, compounded by the economic downturn.

"People can shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week now," he said.

We've become less relevant to people's shopping needs

Nigel Rossiter

"Go back 20 years and they could shop in the daytime Monday to Saturday in the town centre.

"We've become less relevant to people's shopping needs."

He said that the directors were left with no choice but to close.

He said: "We held a promotion last year to mark 150 years and hoped that might be a boost to trade.

"It provided a lot of interest, but it really didn't do an awful lot for trade and it became apparent that the trading prospects in 2009 looked bleak."

He added: "On an emotional level you have 150 years of history on your shoulders.

"It would have been lovely to have passed on, but not as a burden."

Rossiters through the ages

The store was opened in 1858 in Winner Street by Jane and Sarah Rossiter who sent round a flyer to local homes announcing their "general drapery business of well-assorted goods".

At the time, seaside resorts like Paignton were starting to expand on the back of the Victorians' belief that seawater was a cure for many ailments.

Fourth-generation Mr Rossiter, 55, said: "The railways would have come 10 years later. They caught it about right."

The store, which moved to its current site in Palace Avenue in 1888, remained in the same family and Mr Rossiter has been in charge for more than 30 years.

Mr Rossiter said the store had helped to inspire David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, writers of TV series Are You Being Served?

The two writers spent a summer season in Paignton before Are You being Served? was first aired in 1972.

"I'm sure aspects of it came from department stores including us," said Mr Rossiter."

And it is easy to imagine the voice of John Inman calling out as you peruse the massed ranks of Farah slacks.

Sylvia Weeks Betty Harris
Sylvia Weeks and Betty Harris: Rossiters is "like a family to us".
Like Mr Rossiter, many of those who work at Rossiters have stayed for decades.

Sharon Wayte, who joined 23 years ago, said: "Over the years we have made a lot of friends from customers.

"They smile and wave, bring their grandchildren in and we hear about weddings or if someone has died.

"It's like a family and if one of the customers, some of whom are quite elderly dies, everyone feels upset because they have become like close friends.

"I guess somewhere along the line we must have done something right."

She added: "There will be tears on the last day. But I'm sure an awful lot of us will stay in touch. It's like we're all family here."

Customers who come in weekly to the store's Ross cafe include Sylvia Weeks, 75, and Betty Harris, 83, who both worked at the store when they were in their 20s.

Mrs Weeks worked in the basement in the linen department for five years.

Mrs Harris was sewing in the same room as the cafe.

She said: "You can't believe this is happening. We know so many people where and this is where we always come. It's like a family to us."

Mrs Weeks said: "We worked hard, but I really loved it. I left, but I wish I never had."

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