MALVERN town centre will have to become a 'community hub' to survive the closure of Brays department store, says a council chief.

Councillor Beverley Nielsen, portfolio holder for economic development and tourism on Malvern Hills District Council, said the closure of Brays – announced last week – was "really upsetting".

The town centre fixture, which has been open in Worcester Road since 1895, will close early next year as its owner and managing director are both retiring.

Cllr Nielsen said: "It's really upsetting that Brays is closing after more than 100 years, and I know it's greatly valued as I'm a customer there myself.

"It's also in a very strategic position if you're coming into the town centre, and the building would clearly lend itself to different opportunities.

"I intend to make contact with the owner and managing director to discuss the options for the future.

"There is a big opportunity for town centres to become community hubs, and events like the Great Malvern Food Festival, which is organised by the district council, should help to attract people off the hills and into the town centre."

Priory ward town councillor Peter Smith said: "Brays has been a successful business in the town centre for more than 100 years, so clearly they were doing something right for much of that time.

"The building is very elegant, and there is the possibility of subdividing the existing shop space to provide smaller units.

"The future of the town centre may well involve individual idiosyncratic businesses.

"We already have businesses such as Malvern Goldsmiths on Belle Vue Terrace, Austin and Co, Rhubarb, or Robin Elt, and that may be the way that the town centre will have to go in the future."

Cynthia Palmer, who represents the Priory Ward on both town and district councils, said: "It will be a sad day when Brays closes and I feel very sorry for the staff, who are absolutely lovely and provide first-class service, but I can well appreciate the reasons why it has had to close.

"I think town centres do have a future, but they have to play to their strengths.

"We all expect to be able to shop at the click of a mouse nowadays, and so town centres might have to contract, but local authorities will have to help the retail sector survive."

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End of an era as Malvern department store Brays announces closure