THE end of an era came in Bournemouth and Poole yesterday, when the towns' Beales stores closed for good.

In the end, under the shadow of the evolving coronavirus crisis, the stores– which have a trading heritage of 139 years – went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

The COVID-19 situation led to the closing down sales finishing two weeks earlier than planned and effectively killed hopes of rescuing at least part of the business.

At the Bournemouth store, on the site where John Elmes Beale started the business in 1881, marketing manager Paul Masterson said: “I think everybody hoped part of it would be saved. That’s just proved not to be possible at the moment, compounded even more given the current events.

“When the government started doing daily press conferences, trade started to dip and unfortunately the administrators have to make a call on what’s viable.

“It’s testament to the team that even though they’re losing their jobs, they haven’t stopped putting their all into the job and leaving in a way that’s fitting to the brand and its history and heritage.”

Matt Roberts, manager of the Bournemouth store, which had around 100 staff, said: “We’ve noticed a drop in footfall. It’s had a real effect on the town. People are staying away.”

Paula Collins has worked at Beales in Bournemouth for nearly 40 years. She retired as a store employee and started work almost immediately in the fashion concessions.

She said she could not imagine Bournemouth without Beales. She had made friends among staff and customers and used to phone customers to tell them about new stock that they would like.

“I’ve had people who’ve come in as young married mums and then they bring their children and then their grandchildren,” she said.

She said the store was a favourite visit for holiday makers as well. “I’ve got customers who write to me or email me and say ‘I’m coming next week, what have you got in my size?; It was all part of their holiday,” she added.

“It’s every woman’s dream really, working with beautiful clothes. It’s hard work but good fun and a lovely profession.”

In Poole, where Beales has been a key part of the Dolphin Shopping Centre for decades, shoppers voiced their appreciation for what the department store had given the town over the years.

Marjorie Wilkins said: "It is part of this area's history, its heritage and I am really sad to see it go. I am of the generation who grew up with department stores like this. But it is clear that there isn't the need for them as much anymore. The way people buy goods has changed.

"This coronavirus situation will come to an end, and there will be lots of businesses affected – but Beales was on its way out well before any of this."

Another shopper told the Daily Echo: "It is sad to see Beales go, lots of people will be losing their jobs...but there's a lot of that in the air at the moment.

"We are living in strange times indeed."

All the 21 remaining branches of Beales closed yesterday, with two stores already shut.

The majority of the chain’s staff, more than 1,000, will be made redundant on Saturday.

The department store chain went into administration in January, with administrators from KPMG initially looking for a buyer for all or part of the business.