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Bye Bye Thorntons – Is It Just About Chocolate?

Published on: 28 Jul, 2012
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2012

Empty premises at 103 Guildford High Street where Thorntons used to trade

By Martin Giles

Where do you buy your chocolate? Probably, along with most other things you eat, in a supermarket, or perhaps it is an impulse buy at a convenience shop or a garage. A significant number of chocolate consumers in Guildford, though, used to go to Thorntons to get something that felt, at least, a little bit more specialised.

I have heard criticism that their product quality had decreased as they had cut costs and chased a bigger market but, to many, a personally chosen selection of favourites was still a thoughtful present for a special occasion and queues were likely to form in the lead up periods to Valentines Day, Easter Sunday and Mothers Day. Not that the shop was dead at other times: it seemed to have a healthy level of business and there was little direct competition.

Despite all that the shop finally closed this week. Perhaps it is just another shop  closure, an inevitable victim of the laws of economics? Certainly the closure is unlikely to feature in any history of Guildford but perhaps it does represent another nail in the coffin of Guildford retailing. On a High Street swamped with clothes shops Thorntons was something different, albeit part of a national chain.

Although part of a national retrenchment programme the stated reason for this particular closure was the rent. Guildford High Street rents are infamous for being some of the highest outside London but are they sustainable? Will most of us still want to go to the High Street even to window shop if all on offer is clothes, most of it up market ladies clothes out of reach to the majority? Clearly though there is money to be made in this sector and a sizeable chunk of the hefty mark up finds its way into landlords pockets.

Almost certainly it will be left to the market. We tend to dislike economic intervention, especially in Tory heartlands like Guildford. Perhaps that is a good thing, it stops taxpayers money being wasted on uneconomic ventures that could be based more on nostalgia than hard business sense.

And anyway there are much larger forces at play. No one really knows what the longer term impact of increased internet shopping will be. Perhaps that is why clothes shops are prevailing. Many still prefer to touch, feel and try on things they are to wear because it is impossible to properly assess quality or fit on a computer screen.

So is the future for all high streets inevitably bleak? Are we heading for a world where we only venture away from our computers to buy clothes or a pair of shoes? But isn’t ‘going shopping’ about more than just making purchases? Even if we don’t actually need to buy anything don’t we also enjoy the social interaction and an attractive environment.

Perhaps those are the things we should ensure as a town we maintain if we want our beautiful High Street, which already has the advantage of a singular view and historic architecture, to remain healthy commercially and socially. Maybe, as more and more purchases are made on line, towns need to consider more what they can offer that shoppers can’t get on-line.

Thorntons still open last December

Perhaps we should take a lesson from neighbouring Godalming that has, by design or accident, a more eclectic mix of commodities sold by smaller scale businesses? Perhaps our council needs greater planning powers to prevent our streets becoming sterile? And perhaps the council should also think twice about extending the Friary monolith and imagining that relentless business growth, regardless of traffic levels, is real progress?

What do you think. Will you miss Thorntons? Are there other old Guildford shops you miss. What does it say about our High Street? Should we care or, in any case,  is it all beyond our and the council’s control? Have your say by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

See also: ‘Thorntons High Street Chocolate Shop Finally Closes’

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test One Response to Bye Bye Thorntons – Is It Just About Chocolate?

  1. Martin Stokes

    July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

    This is a nationwide problem with Retail parks with their free parking a far more attractive alternative to town centres. Councils across the country should view applications from businesses very carefully as it appears that mobile telephone shops, estate agents and pound-shops are replacing empty premises in high streets throughout the country.