DISCOUNT designer fashion retailer TK Maxx is to take over Southampton's city centre's flagship Woolworths store.

But the move will leave the prime central building, in Above Bar Street, standing empty for many months after Woolworths shuts up shop on September 1.

As predicted in the Daily Echo, TK Maxx confirmed it is to relocate from its smallish High Street store "sometime next year."

The move to the larger 22,500 sq ft Woolworths building, almost opposite the WestQuay shopping centre will give TX Maxx a higher footfall and make it one of the most prominent shops in the city.

Woolworths made the bombshell announcement last week that it had accepted an offer from its landlord, UBS Triton Property Fund, an arm of the Swiss bank, to buy back the lease ten years early.

It is now is holding talks with 49 members of permanent staff who face redundancy if alternative jobs cannot be found at other stores.

Woolworths, which had been trading in Above Bar Street since 1923, admitted it had no relocation plans and could quit the city centre for good.

It has four other stores in the area, in Shirley, Woolston, Totton and Portswood as well as larger stores in Eastleigh, Romsey and Fareham.

Daily Echo readers, unions and councillors expressed dismay at the loss of the household name, synonymous with pick and mix sweets.

But business leaders were quick to stress it did not spell the end for Above Bar Street and the High Street.

They maintained the city had a strong retail economy despite distortions in traditional pedestrian flows since the arrival of WestQuay shopping centre in 2000.

TK Maxx, launched in the UK in 1994, has 214 stores across the UK and Ireland with about 15,000 employees. It opened in Basingstoke at the end of last summer.

The off-price retailer sells designer labels and well-known brands at up to 60 per cent off recommended retail prices.

Its parent, TJX Companies Inc, is an £8.5 billion operation in the US with more than 2,000 stores across the States and Canada.