WE know how it feels, here in Bradford, to lose much-loved city centre stores.

Busbys, Woolworths, Rackhams, Sunwin House...all long gone and fondly remembered by those who shopped there.

I’m still getting over Debenhams. Its closure, in 2021, left a huge hole in The Broadway. But at least we still had M&S.

There has been a Marks & Spencer in Bradford for as long as anyone can remember. Whatever you need - new socks, linen pants, a bunch of flowers, quality pyjamas, a Victoria sponge, a bra fitting or a fancy Friday night meal deal - it’s all at Marks’s.

But Bradford is now facing a future without the store that has had a presence in the city since 1906, when Michael Marks and Tom Spencer opened a Penny Bazaar here, selling an array of goods, from biscuits to sheet music. Marks & Spencer was on Darley Street for more than 85 years, but hasn’t even lasted a decade in The Broadway, despite being one of its anchor stores.

Last week’s announcement that Marks & Spencer plans to close its Bradford store came as a bitter blow to people who live and work in Bradford. As I say, this city is no stranger to losing major stores - but this feels different. People have used Marks & Spencer in Bradford for decades. Generations of families have shopped there. In an ever-changing cityscape, M&S was the constant; the familiar mainstay. Lots of readers have contacted the T&A since the news broke and several say that M&S is the main reason they go into town.

“Use or lose it”, they say. Well we did use it, and it looks like we’re still going to lose it. I use the Broadway store regularly and it’s always busy, especially the food hall. Footfall is reported to be up, so why is the retailer pulling out?

M&S says customers can use its other stores, including Pudsey and Birstall. It rather snootily assumes that these outlets are easy to reach, just a stone’s throw away. But for many shoppers, including older people and those who rely on public transport, Owlcotes and the Birstall retail park aren’t particularly accessible. Even those of us who can get to these places don’t necessarily want to. I don’t like retail parks because they’re sucking the life and soul out of the high street. You can keep your free parking - I’d rather have a Marks’s in my city centre, thanks.

Signposting people out of Bradford doesn’t exactly show faith in this city. Bradford is on the cusp of being the next UK City of Culture - for a major retailer to pull out of the city centre, where it has been a staple for more than a century, shows a lack of confidence that is devastating.

It’s not just the lack of confidence. I think what has left people in genuine despair - apart from losing a familiar face in a changing retail landscape - is the sense of contempt. Closing down a popular store, in a convenient location, and expecting people to head out of town shows little respect for loyal customers. My elderly aunt practically lives in her local M&S. Whenever I visit her we go there for coffee and cake; she knows the cafe staff by their names. There’s no way, aged 92, she’d be able to negotiate a busy retail park.

“They’ve not given their older customers any thought,” says one T&A reader. “People who use M&S in Bradford look forward to shopping there and have done for 50 years-plus.”Says another: “I’ve been a loyal M&S shopper for 30 years. I cannot believe they’re putting out of a city the size of Bradford. I’m deeply saddened. I certainly won’t be travelling to Leeds.”

“I sat down and wrote a long letter, telling them how Bradfordians feel,” someone told me this week. There’s talk of a petition and calls for the council to intervene. It’s a resistance movement that may be futile, but people are hurt and angry. If this was just the closure of a shop it would be unfortunate, a little sad maybe, and essentially a First World problem. But it’s more than that. M&S is a significant part of of our social and retail history. To lose it feels like we’re going to lose the high street - and what a depressing prospect that is.