Retail

Published: May 14, 2021 | Updated: May 15, 2021

Chamber hails “great coup” as Bobby’s returns to its beat in multi-million development plans

An artist’s impression of the restored ‘Bobby’s’ building in The Square, Bournemouth.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Multi-million pound plans to restore what was once the home of ‘Bobby’s’ department store to its former glory have been hailed as “a great coup” for Bournemouth.

Jacqui Rock, President of Bournemouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce, was speaking after Verve Properties announced that it was restoring the prominent building in The Square.

It was due to lie empty when the current occupier, Debenhams, closed its doors for the final time on May 12.

Many of the building’s original features will now be reinstated, including the original 1933 front entrance, or uncovered.

Jacqui, pictured left, told Dorset Biz News: “This is a great coup for Bournemouth.

“Very much a ‘wow’ retail shopping experience, which is just what we need as people’s expectations become higher.

“Bobby’s is something that is not only iconic to us locally, it is wonderful to launch the town as we re-emerge from lockdown.

“I, for one, can’t wait to visit.”

In a press release, Verve Properties, the development company which recently transformed the nearby Avenue Centre, said that it was “focused on securing local, independent, and socially conscious brands to work with, to ensure that the regeneration reflects the changes the pandemic has accelerated in social and shopping patterns.”

Plans are in place for the first parts of the store to reopen in mid-July this year, with more elements opening all the way through the year and into 2022.

First to open will be Bobby’s Beauty Hall, a traditional ice cream and coffee parlour, an art gallery, and a dog café in the Lower Gardens.

The beauty hall will have local, sustainable, and conscious brands sitting alongside the big brands.

As an independent beauty operation, Bobby’s Beauty Hall will offer products and brands not previously available at Debenhams.

There will also be a Sushi and plant-based Poke Bowl Bar, a nail bar and treatment rooms for female and male grooming.

The watch repairing station ‘In Time’ will be retained.

On the first floor the large windows overlooking the Square will be opened up, new balconies installed, and the floor will house a food and market hall.

This will include street food outlets including plant-based food, a deli, a bar and speciality retail market pods.

Spa facilities are in the planning stages and, it is hoped, will open in 2022.

The second floor will house an art gallery with more details to be revealed in coming weeks.

Accessed from Terrace Road, old buildings at the rear will be reorganised to create a garden area and a micro-brewery and craft ale smokery bar.

Following that, plans are in place to open a 4th floor restaurant and bar and roof terrace bar.  – all with a key focus on the local community.

There are also plans in place, due to be announced soon, for a very special collaboration with the Bournemouth-bred artist Stuart Semple, which will involve memories of the town.

Bobby & Co opened in 1915 in The Square in Bournemouth and remained under that name for more than 50 years.

It was rebranded in 1972 as part of the Debenhams group.

Ashley Nicholson, Director of Verve Properties, pictured left, said: “Bobby’s has historically always been at the heart of the town centre and the community.

“When we started our research into the history, we kept unearthing how bedded into the community the building was.

“We also found much of the architectural detail had survived but was covered up – so we took inspiration from that and have sought to restore what we can to bring back the grandeur of this iconic building, whilst the same time introducing some modernity to make it fitting for today.

“The copper domes will be repaired, the flagpoles reinstated, the 1970’s canopy removed and replaced by the original design, the 1933 front entrance designs reinstated, new ornate first floor balconies to match the others installed and so on.

“All of which aims to be front and centre of our plans for a rebirth and celebration of both the Bobby’s name and original architectural style.

“If shoppers are going to be tempted back into town centres, then retailers need to value three key elements in any new structure and design.

“The first is to consider what kind of shopping experience people will still want to happen “in real life”- beauty, clothing and footwear are good examples of retail that people want to try out in person.

“The second element should focus on how to make the shopping experience a fun and enjoyable one.

“The third should be to remember that ultimately town centres are there to serve the local community.

“It will take time to deliver Bobby’s back to its former glory, the building has suffered a lack of expenditure over many years, but with the patience and support of the community this project can play a significant role in the re-imagining of the town centre in a post Covid world.

“Regeneration is vital, but gentrification that alienates a community is the opposite of what new retail projects should be aiming for.

“We are, therefore, very excited to be able to bring this ethos to our plans for Bobby’s, bringing back the glamour and the style of the original Bobby’s from the early 20th century.”

  • All images are artist impressions of the planned restoration of Bobby & Co.