The day Comet plunged to earth

The electrical retail giant finally closed its doors yesterday – but not before shoppers descended on branches looking for one final bargain

It’s the last day of trading for Comet, the electrical retail giant that went into administration last month after almost 80 years on the British high street.

Opening hours at the 49 remaining stores, according to their customer service hotline, are from 9am until they sell out. At the Tottenham Hale branch in north London it’s barely 11am but the pickings are already looking slim. Shop assistants stand around looking bewildered. “Twenty-five minutes left,” one staff member shouts. “Ninety per cent off everything!”

Just behind the automatic doors are three tables, where an assortment of vacuum cleaner filters, belts and bags are scattered. There is also one vacuum cleaner, though it looks broken. Further back, a box of plugs. Only the reception of the huge warehouse store is open. In the background, just rows of empty shelves. Disappointed customers mill in and out, mostly empty handed. “There’s nothing left on offer,” says Emile Martin, 48, who works for an undertakers. “I’m just working at a funeral, but I had an hour off so I thought I’d take a look. It’s more depressing than the funeral.”

Ali Smith, 25, who works at nearby Currys, was hoping to get a computer. “It seems like I was beaten to it,” he sighs. “I just feel sorry for the staff and management. It’s really bad.”

One customer has come to collect a set of fridge filters she had bought in advance. “No chance of getting them now,” she says. “I’ve just been given a piece of paper and told to go to head office. But it can’t be good for these guys just before Christmas.”

Another is loading up her car with an oven fume extractor and a waffle iron. She had a £150 voucher to spend, but only realised the chain was closing when she saw it on the news the previous evening.

Saeid Saeidi, 48, however, an electrical contractor, leaves in high spirits. He is holding a bag containing all of the aforementioned plug sockets. “Five pounds for 20!” he says, “I didn’t even get a receipt! I was hoping to buy many things which were cheap. Computer, TV, camera, whatever. Unfortunately it’s all been wiped out very early … You want any plugs?”

Among the staff, the emotions appear mixed. Some are joking around, enjoying the attention of the occasion. Most look ashen faced. One security guard, taking a cigarette break, outside says he has been working there for three years. He has had no luck finding alternative employment so far. “It’s the first time we’ve had Christmas without a job,” he says. “I don’t know how we’ll celebrate. There was a friendly staff community, I’ll be sad to be leaving.”

Sherene Chalhie, 24, one of the 7,000 employees made redundant by the collapse, has worked at the store for almost five years. It has supported her through her studies and while she seeks work as an actor. Fortunately she has found another job in retail, although the older staff members are finding it harder, she says. “It fees like a family falling apart. People have been crying in here already.”

Just after midday, the shutters close. People continue to peer in. One woman even rings the doorbell.

“Can I come in?” asks a middle-aged man.

“Not unless you’re a member of staff,” replies the flustered manager and he slides the doors together. Soon, he won’t be allowed in either. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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