Boswells announces closure

02 Dec 2019

One of Oxford’s landmark shops and a memory for almost all alumni, Boswells, has shocked the city with news of its impending closure in 2020.

The all-purpose department store famous for having just what students need at a convincing price first opened its doors in 1738, and is believed to be the second oldest family-owned department store in the world.

Approximately 70 employees were told the news in late November, although the exact timing of the closure is not yet clear.

The Boswells board of directors issued a statement saying that they had been actively exploring all options to make the business work, ‘but due to prevailing adverse retail conditions has concluded that the store is likely to close in 2020.’

One of the Directors, Mr Jonathan Pearson, told The Oxford Times that the store had not made any money over the past two years, despite a new café that since opening in 2015 had won a loyal clientele. Another Director, Ms Sarah Pearson, mentioned that ‘Some tourists go straight to Bicester Village and are not coming Oxford.’

Anecdotally, the stage-managed ‘discount luxury’ offering of Bicester Village has diverted numerous tourists who might previously have come to Oxford. They board a train at London Marylebone, get off at Bicester directly by the retail village, spend all day there and then head directly back to London with a new Samsonite suitcase loaded up with luxury goods.

Formerly, the purveyor of that Samsonite suitcase might have been Boswells, with its extensive luggage collection by the Broadstreet entrance to the store.

Another possible source of adverse change, although not one mentioned by the Boswells Directors, is Oxford’s new Westgate shopping centre which has anecdotally placed the rest of Oxford’s traditional retail district under pressure, with reduced footfall and sales.

As things stand there are numerous empty store fronts to be observed as you walk around Broad Street, Turl Street and the High Street. Other high-profile retail casualties in recent years include Ducker and Elmer Cotton Sports, both on Turl Street.

Part of the existing Boswells shop is leased by the City Council, while another part is believed to belong to the owners and will be sold.


Sabiah Askari
What heartbreaking news! The impossible is happening. I’m proud to say that I have never been to Bicester and I certainly don’t plan to ever go there. I was at Oxford decades ago but have visited frequently subsequently. And stopping by Boswell’s was natural. It didn’t occur to one to not go there.
Mike Tiley
I am sorry to hear that Boswell’s family owned department store is closing next year. It seemed to be similar to Daniel’s family owned department store on the main shopping street in Windsor which was modernised recently and also received the Royal Warrant when John Lewis closed their small branch there. It seems to be trading successfully. Their main branch used to be in Ealing where we live but the old site has been sold and they have opened two smaller furniture shops in Ealing and Chiswick instead also bearing the Royal Warrant. Daniel’s used to have department stores in Newbury and South Wales which are now closed. I wonder if Boswells have asked Daniel’s if they would be interested in taking over their store ? Also Bentall’s in Kingston seem to be continuing successfully.
Frances Kennett
Slowly the quality of life in Oxford is being reduced. For lots of high-bred students, fending for themselves and being part of a thriving city was a learning experience. It was part of growing up and fending for yourself. There is a larger issue here, about people open to power in their futures who no longer have to deal with a degree of normal interaction with the citizens of this lovely city. Pathetic, and sad.
What a shame! Here we are, slowly yet surely, abandoning our traditional lives in Oxford perhaps to some extent by our city council's inapt and stubborn short-sightedness on how to improve our city - or should it be said, how to improve their taxable resources. Have a look at what's happened to the Covered Market; how we have sorely lost the joyful gift of the market's Christmas spirit offered in the seasonal display of wild game, traditional fayre and gifts. Gone the happy moments spent in the little old book shops that fed our yearning to explore. We are driven to become automatons in a sterile city. Materialism has gone astray; it has imbued our minds with the poison dubbed 'progress'; yes progress, indeed, but surely to oblivion and to loss of our unique identity and heritage.The joy of shopping in yesteryears cobbled-streets of Oxford has slowly faded away into our memory as an old photograph in which sturdy young men and women with foggy faces is set aside for the dawning of the digital age. No need to say more!!!!!!!
Judy Morrison
What a shame. When we come back to Oxford for alumnae occasions we always have a shopping list for Boswells. It's very sad.
Jan Luckett
This is truly heartbreaking news. I lived in Oxford from the age of 2 till I married an Oxford grad, we return to Oxford regularly and always shop in Boswell's. It seems impossible to think it will not be there. Times really are a changing...and sadly so. Thank you Boswells for your part in Oxford's history.

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