Punters spoke of their concerns over the gradual decline of the South Shields high street and of the town’s economy more broadly, as they passed the shop’s doors one final time this week for clearance sale deals.
The retail giant’s King Street store is set to shut for good on Saturday, October 10, having traded in the town centre for several decades.
Its closure follows a series of other big-name retailers that have disappeared from the area over the course of the past decade.
In recent years South Shields has lost a string of major high-street brands including Marks and Spencer, BHS, Debenhams, Mothercare, Burton and Dorothy Perkins.
“I think since Marks & Spencer left King Street, it’s not the same,” shopper Eddie Clark told the Gazette.
"As you look around, you can see that quite a lot of shops had shut before WH Smith.
"There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the area now – not least to bring in some decent stores for locals.”
It is thought that around 14 WH Smith stores are to close this year after the company reported a ‘slow’ recovery from lockdown, with its sites located at train stations and airports largely expected to go.
WH Smith has not revealed whether the South Shields closure will result in redundancies for staff employed at the King Street store.
“The town centre’s gone down tremendously,” said Tom Whelan, who was out shopping with his partner Jen.
Mrs Whelan: "There’s no atmosphere here at all now.
"It used to be a proper day out, really. There were loads of lovely dress shops, shoe shops and other things to come out to.
"But there’s nothing here now.”
Mr Whelan revealed that he first came across his future partner in King Street more than 50 years ago, when she worked at a separate King Street retailer just metres away.
"I guess I’ll have to go out to Newcastle or Sunderland now for Christmas shopping,” Mrs Whelan added.
"Whether I’ll go in or not, I don’t know yet. Probably not if it’s crowded.
"It’ll be a very different Christmas this year.”
Fellow shopper Margaret Robertson said: "The high street's changed massively. It used to be a great place to go shopping years ago.
"I used to go to Smiths to buy CDs among other things.
"But the town centre's completely dead now."
WH Smith announced in August it planned to close the South Shields store when the lease runs out this month.
The chain began reviewing its nationwide operations following the pandemic and admitted that a “proposed restructure” to save around £19m could lead to around 1,500 redundancies.
Chief executive Carl Cowling in August said business continued “to be adversely affected by low levels of footfall”, adding: "We now need to take further action to reduce costs across our businesses.”