A family-run department store that has operated in Taunton for nearly two centuries will close later this month.
The County Stores, which has been trading in the Somerset town for nearly 190 years, will pull down the shutters for the final time on Saturday, January 19.
The Duder family, who have run the business for generations, have blamed the closure on competition from rival supermarkets, the rise of online shopping and increased business rates.
The incoming owner has told ITV News West Country he intends to turn the site into a motoring museum, which will reflect the history of The County Stores in its new layout.
Since first opening its doors in 1836, County Stores has survived seven British monarchs, fifty-one Prime Ministers and five generations of the same owners.
Hugh Duder, managing director, said: “We’re out of it, basically, because of the competition.
“You’ve got ten supermarkets in Taunton plus very, very high rates – my rates here are £81,000 a year with no sign of any reductions and the whole thing has become a chore, basically."
Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, commenting on the closure, added: “One of the issues was that business rates, quite a lot of the money goes nationally and gets divvied up and you get some back.
“One of the really big changes that this government has made, and is making, is that Somerset now will go into a pilot area for business rate retention and that will mean that more of the money raised locally will be spent locally and I think that will make a really big difference.”
Although the store is closing on January 19, the Post Office - which is based on site - will remain open until late March.
The closure is the end of an era for staff as well, including baker Roy Mockridge - who has worked at County Stores for 43 years.
“I’ve worked here for approximately 43 years,” he said.
“I joined as an apprentice and moved on as bakery manager. It is very sad for me. It’s been my life and career, basically.”
ITV News West Country’s Somerset Correspondent, Ben McGrail, adds:
The demise of the County Stores and the idea behind what is set to replace it is a clear sign of how much our town centres are changing, particularly in rural counties like Somerset.
The shop occupies a huge building in Taunton town centre – far bigger than most modern retailers would need.Whether a motoring museum in the centre of a busy town can be a long-term success remains to be seen, but it is certainly something different and could provide a welcome change.
The man behind the idea has told me he intends to run a café near the entrance with the aim of keeping the building as a meeting-place for local people.
The irony of Taunton losing such an historic independent business is that there is a growing independent scene in the town, with a number of small shops opening to sell items you simply can’t buy online.