PEOPLE in Ilminster have spoken of their shock as one of Somerset’s most iconic shops prepares to close.

R.A. Dyer in Silver Street, a traditional drapers shop, has been in business since 1870 but its owner announced its closure this week.

Seven jobs will be lost, including that of manager Shirley Lee.

The store sells women’s and men’s clothing and shoes, haberdasheries and homewares, and is run by one of Somerset’s oldest families – the Speke family.

Owner Jacqui Speke told the News the closure filled her with ‘great sadness’ and was brought about by a change in people’s shopping habits and competition from online retailers.

She added: “This has been a very difficult decision but the changing marketplace has made it impossible for us to continue to trade as a clothing retailer. I want to thank the many loyal customers who have supported this business and my dedicated staff.”

The shop opened in Ilminster more than 140 years ago, as R.P.

Wheadon’s drapers and then as R.A. Dyer when the late Richard Dyer took it over in March 1937.

The shop has barely changed, with carved wood decorations, recognisable green frontage and its’ name etched on the glass doors and mosaic floor.

A closing down sale has started and Jacqui, who has run the store for eight years, said the last day of trading is expected to be around the beginning of August.

On a positive note, she said the shop will not be vacant for long – interiors business Lafleure of Langport, which Susan Khan set up about 11 years ago, plans to create a showroom in the Grade II-listed building in September.

Jacqui said: “Although I would prefer not to be shutting, I am delighted that a new business will be opening in the store as it is important to continue our proud history of independent retail businesses in Ilminster and to preserve this iconic listed building.”

Ilminster Mayor Emma Jane Taylor said the building is a longstanding iconic shop in the town which has been much-loved.

She added: “It is disappointing to hear that it is closing and we wish the staff and the owners all the success going forward. We look forward to hearing what will be coming in place to occupy the premises again soon.”

The store last closed in February 2005 before being taken over by the descendants of John Hanning Speke, the man accredited with discovering the source of the Nile, after the departure of previous owner Dee-Anne McCoull.

The store was very much Jacqui Speke’s venture, and although it was initially leased, said she bought the freehold from owner Rosa Davis.

County councillor Linda Vijeh said she was sad to hear the news and added: “I recall my introduction to the joys of this quirky store, with its distinctive facade, over 25 years ago.

“It has always reminded me of the days when service really meant something and it is an excellent example of our traditional retailing history.

“It still has many excellent features, which I hope will be preserved by whoever takes over.”

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