CUSTOMERS and staff have bid a fond farewell to Bournemouth's Marks & Spencer store, which has been a part of the town centre for generations.

The store in Commercial Road ceased trading on Saturday, after the shock announcement was made in February to bring down the shutters for the last time.

A sign inside the store's entrance reads: "Thank you to our very loyal customers. We will miss you. Edwina and the team. 1930-2018."

M&S selected the branch as one of 14 to close across the UK, as part of a cost-cutting drive. Nationwide profits at the iconic retailer fell by almost two thirds last year, following a business overhaul.

Declines in clothing sales and higher costs from opening new food stores were partly to blame for the fall.

Bournemouth town centre councillor Bob Chapman, who relaunched the Commercial Road store when he was deputy mayor in 2007, has already called for M&S - which owns the premises - to put it on the market as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Tony Brown - chief executive of town centre rival Beales - has described M&S's departure as a blow to the town.

On Saturday, the Echo spoke to shoppers making their last visit to the store.

Most of the produce in the food hall, with the exception of alcohol, had been reduced in price. By early afternoon the shelves were pretty much empty.

Jane Talbot said: "Yes, it is going to be a real loss. M&S is such a historic brand and I love coming to the food hall. I also think most people at some point have bought clothes from Marks, you always know you are going to get decent quality items which, alright, may be a bit more than some other retailers, but also don't fall apart after six months. It is good quality."

Shopper Megan Ali believes the rise in recent years of online clothes shops may have added to the tough trading conditions M&S found itself in.

"Because of next day delivery and the ease of making returns online, it is as easy to shop online as it is to actually come to the shops and try clothes on," she told the Echo. "Town centre shopping has changed a lot in past decades. We are also seeing a lot more out of town development, such as Castlepoint, where M&S has a store anyway."

Former employee Liz Ferrone, of Bournemouth, said: "It is sad, as it was the first proper job I had. I worked there for three years, and it was like a little family, I still see people I worked with 23 years ago there today.

"I served Amanda Holden and Les Dennis when they were a couple. And Jamie Redknapp and his mum were regular shoppers."

Ally Hanks said: “As a local, I was brought up with it being here. It is sad from a nostalgic point of view and it is especially sad for the community.

“I think from the perspective of tourists, the fact that there isn’t an M&S on our high street would be a shock for some.”

Holly Cooper said: “Recently, I think the store has improved, the stuff has got better.

"I wonder how long it’s going to be empty for because it is a really big space to fill.”

“We’re really sad because we always come in here.”

Julie and Peter England said: “We are devastated and sad because we can walk here and we don’t like Castlepoint.”

And another shopper said: “It’s a sign of the times. Everything is falling apart and quite often our experience of shopping is putting a few numbers into our computers.”

According to M&S all 135 staff at the Bournemouth store will be offered jobs elsewhere.

Aaron Spicer, M&S head of region for Wessex, said: "Closing our store on Commercial Road was not a decision we took lightly. The team are staying with M&S and will continue to offer our customers the very best of M&S in the area, including at our flagship Castlepoint store."