Doors close on an institution

Cumming's of Leven, now closed after the company went into administration.
Cumming's of Leven, now closed after the company went into administration.

Over 100 years of history came to an end on our High Street last week as the shutters were pulled down on Cumming of Leven.

On Wednesday morning, the shop closed to the public after it was announced the department store, which was established in 1879, had gone into administration.

Cumming’s was always the place to go for that special gift

John Philp

The Cumming (Leven) Ltd group, which owns Sphere & Turret stores across Fife, as well as more than a dozen others across Scotland, was forced to call in administrators, with business restructuring partners Bryan Jackson and James Stephen from BDO LLP handling proceedings.

In a statement, it was confirmed that the group’s 15 stores across Scotland had closed with immediate effect, while the head office, located on Sea Road in Methil, was being kept open for the time being with a skeleton staff.

Across Scotland, around 80-90 people have now been made redundant.

Bryan Jackson, BDO business restructuring partner, said: “Unfortunately, difficult trading conditions significantly affected the business and the company is not in a position to continue to trade.

“It is therefore with great regret that all stores operated by the company will close and the administrator’s objective will now be to maximise value from the company’s assets for the benefit of all its creditors.”

A statement posted on the Cumming of Leven Facebook page at the weekend said: “On behalf of myself and the staff at Cumming’s we would just like to thank all the customers and staff past and present. We were a big part in the Leven community and hoped we provided a staple service to our community.

‘‘We have been open since 1879 and without the support of our community this could not have been possible.”

The store also offered its apologies to those with gift vouchers, store credit, a savings club account and kilt hire.

The store’s closure has been called ‘devastating’ by Councillor Tom Adams, chairman of the Levenmouth area committee, who added: “This a blow for the High Street.”

Fellow Leven Councillor Charles Haffey added: “I’m just devastated by this news.

“My first thoughts go out to all of the people who worked in the store which had a dedicated customer base.”

Councillor David Alexander, Leven, commented: “It’s tragic news for all involved. Cumming’s has been in the High Street for as long as I can remember.

‘‘But being a long -standing name, as we saw with Tullis Russell, no longer guarantees survival.”

He said that, while shopping habits had changed, Fife Council and the Scottish Government were taking action to help businesses thrive.

John Philp, who worked in The Turret in Leven from 1978-85, said he was shocked to hear of the closure but hoped Cumming would be remembered with respect, representing a time when Leven High Street was a shopping “destination” plus great cameraderie between staff and customers.

He reckoned it had become a victim of on-line shopping and ‘everything under one roof’ retail.

“Staff and management were proud to work for this high street business,” he said. “Customers trusted us and they returned week after week. Loyalty was nurtured and preserved, personal service was always the foundation which differentiated us from some of the less appealing competition.

“Cumming was always held in high esteem and it was always the place to go for that special occasion or that special gift. Because it had ‘always been there’, I suppose we all thought it always would be,” said Mr Philp, of Windygates.

“ If a lesson is to be learned, from this, then surely it is if we want to keep our high streets as active places to shop, socialise and do business, we must support those brave enough to trade.”

Following the news, Claire Baker MSP said the impact of the closure on the local community “could not be underestimated” and has now called on the Scottish Government and Fife Council to work together to support staff.

She said: “It is vital that the Scottish Government and Fife Council now work together to support staff and our local high streets during this difficult time and I will be looking to raise this issue in Parliament next week.”

Levenmouth councillor Ally Hunter saidhe had requested the assistance of Fife Council to aid those now out of work.

“It’s devastating news for the staff and for Leven High Street. Leven has lost an institution. I have spoken to the administrators to see what, if anything, can be done but it seems very clear that nothing can save the business.

‘‘I have arranged for Fife Council employment support services details to be passed to all employees so that they can be assisted in any way possible.”

Stephen Gethins, new SNP MP for the north east Fife, which covers the Leven area, said it was “dreadful” news for all involved, and said he hoped Fife Council and the Scottish Government would work together to help those affected, while MP Peter Grant, who covers the Methil area, said he would work with the Scottish Government and other agencies to offer support to everyone who has lost their jobs.

Alistair Suttie, chairman of the Leven Community Council, added: “The Community Council is saddened to hear of the closure of one of Leven’s oldest names on our High Street. The news has come as a shock to everyone, but especially to the staff and their families and our best wishes go to them.

“The fact that Sphere &Turret will be closing shops throughout Scotland proves this is a problem affecting all areas, not just Leven.”

Customers who want more information should call BDO LLP on 0141 248 3761.