Portsmouth sees first ever River Island Boutique concept store with high-tech fitting rooms open in Commercial Road

FASHION retailer River Island has chosen Portsmouth to launch its first-ever high-tech boutique store – with shoppers hoping that the new store will revitalise a hard-hit Commercial Road.

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 12:35 pm
Updated Sunday, 21st November 2021, 9:16 am

River Island closed its former site in the busy high street earlier this month – before moving to a retail unit with three times the space opposite H&M.

More than £800,000 has been spent on the concept store, which has created 30 new jobs in the city and features touch-screen displays throughout.

Shoppers can use the screens to view style advice, while sensors in the fitting rooms automatically detect and display the items being tried on and their total cost, with a request for a different size available at the push of a button.

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River Island's Boutique Concept Store has created 30 new jobs in the city. Photos by Alex Shute

Store lead Kirsty Major, who previously worked in Fareham branch of River Island for more than five years, said she was ‘very, very proud’ to bring the brand’s first-ever boutique store to Portsmouth.

The 31-year-old: ‘I think it was because we did amazing in the old venue, so we know that we had the market. We have been in the high street for many, many years.

‘We knew that investment was needed in Portsmouth so the company decided to do a brand new concept.

‘We had 48 hours fit out the whole shop. We were meant to have Monday to Friday, but this was changed. When we came in on Wednesday, it was a building site.’

River Island opened its Boutique Concept Store on Portsmouth's Commerical Road on Saturday morning. Photos by Alex Shute

Most of the former store’s staff have joined the 45-strong crew at the new venue, with the mother of one staff member saying the shop was a much-needed addition to Commercial Road.

North End resident Kim George said: ‘This really adds to Commercial Road. They have taken away so many shops. This area is so important – especially if you cannot drive. They need to do more to improve it.

Sam Butcher, a 49-year-old shopper from Baffins, added: ‘Rive Island is my favourite store – I have been to loads.

‘This is the best one.

A long queue formed as River Island opened its Boutique Concept Store on Portsmouth's Commerical Road on Saturday morning. Photos by Alex Shute

‘This was definitely needed. They need to improve the rest of the town – with more shops like this.’

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Commercial Road has been hard-hit by a series of stores closure over the last three years, which has seen Mothercare, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, and Topshop all close their doors for good.

Admiring the new River Island store was a former Debenhams staff member, who helped shut up the huge department store in the city centre.

More than £800,000 has been spent on the new concept store. Photos by Alex Shute

Mike Laver, a 50-year-old resident of North End, said: ‘I was there 34 years, and I was part of the team that packed up the store. It was sad to see it go.

‘I would like to think the River Island store will buck the trend.

‘But I don’t know, (the council) invested in Commercial Road a few years ago, sprucing up the pavements – and that didn’t seem to work.’

In 2016, the city council announced that it planned to spend more than £300,000 improving the trees, benches, and pavements along the high street.

But many shoppers, including Mike, remain apprehensive about the fate of the shopping district.

Mike said: ‘I think Commercial Road is going to go up and down.

‘It’s become so easy to buy online.

‘I think River Island are doing enough to encourage people – they can only do so much.’

Portsmouth resident Carol added: ‘I reckon the other stores will be jealous.’

The River Island Boutique will be hosting at Christmas party in-store, featuring free face painting, a bespoke gift wrapping service, and a festive DJ sets, on December 4.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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