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Covid Uncertainty Hitting Retail But 14 New Town Shops Show Cautious Confidence

Published on: 19 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 19 Dec, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Covid is hitting retail in Guildford once again. Following the latest wave of infection, traders are reporting cautious spending and low footfall in the lead up to Christmas, normally their busiest time of year. Brexit and issues with supply chains are also reasons being cited, adding to their worries.

But there still appears to be optimism in the mix as around 14 new shops have sprung up in the town centre and others are reporting trade is “steady”.

“Cautious” spending in Guildford as the annual Christmas lights brightens the scene. Credit Dan Hannington.

Chain shops are still seeing Guildford as an attractive bet. New arrivals include luxury watch brand TAGHeurer now open in the Tunsgate Quarter and fast food Taco Bell in upper High Street. Both the East Asian fast food restaurant Itsu and Black Sheep Coffee shop were preparing to open early next year in North Street.

TAGHeurer is one of the chains showing confidence in Guildford.

There was a queue for Covid tests outside the new branch of the London Medical Laboratory in Market Street and a new Hamleys toy shop franchise opened in The Friary saying, maybe predictably approaching Christmas, that business was very good.

Dolce & Salato have opened a pizza and pasta shop in what was formerly Top Table in upper High Street.

New Indies include Framing Castle in Quarry Street, Dolce & Salato in upper High Street, Feng Tech in Swan Lane, Solar Sisters zero waste shop in North Street, pre-owned designer clothing from Misty and Claridge in Chapel Street, crystals and healing at Indigo Moon Holistics in Tunsgate Quarter, the Phone Clinic pop up shop in the High Street and Zero Carbon Guildford, the new community space set up to drive a community-led climate action plan.

Fast food Taco Bell opened in the former TSB branch in upper High Street, brightening up that end of town.

Online competition and trading conditions remain difficult but decreasing vacant shop numbers in Guildford may be bucking the trend.

The Dragon survey of empty shops in the town centre has seen the first drop in vacant shops since the survey was started by Cllr Tony Rooth in January 2018. There are now around 52 empty shops compared to 60 counted in October this year (2021), a significant reduction.

Nina Clayton, co-owner of zero waste shop and cafe Solar Sisters in North Street, said: “Christmas has definitely started for them at the shop”.

National footfall has been reported as dropping over recent weeks in the crucial lead up to Christmas. But figures from Experience Guildford again appear to be better than the national statistics showing an increase of around 3% in the week commencing December 6.

The overall footfall is down though, by as much as 30% on the year to date compared to pre-covid levels in 2019.

Itsu, “sushi, salads, soups and more” shop is to open in January in a huge branch on the corner of North Street and Market Street.

Taylor Goss from Moffats, the family run outdoor equipment and fashion shop, said: “Christmas started for us after Black Friday. Trade has been good. Let’s hope it continues and we don’t have a lockdown for the second Christmas in a row”

Black Sheep Coffee is to open on the ex-Burger King site in North Street.

Staff in Dreams, the bedding shop in North Street, said: “Trade is pretty good and steady. We are doing as well as pre-pandemic with people spending more money on the home.

“Getting new staff is much more difficult now and we have some supply issues but we are always honest with people about delivery times.”

A Hamleys toy shop franchise in The Friary is said to be on a lease up to next March but staff are confident it will be made a more permanent arrangement.

Andy Conlon from Il Gusto, personalised food treats shop in The Friary said: “We couldn’t cope with the demand in 2019. But footfall is down and people aren’t spending on non-essentials. They are being cautious.”

Jewellers H Samuel is to close in White Lion Walk on Saturday with most staff made redundant. Work is starting on the White Lion Walk refurbishment on Monday.

Food and coffee shops continue to open and look to be doing good trade.

The Shambles, once a quiet and virtually unknown side street, has had an amazing turnaround since Sicool, the Sicilian cafe, opened in December 2019. With what is claimed to be “the best hot chocolate in town”, it is always busy and now the same team is opening up a mini-market, Deli Italy, in the same street in January and a restaurant and cocktail bar in March.

A member of staff said: “The Shambles will be a little Italy here in the centre of Guildford.”

The Shambles has been transformed by Sicool, the Sicilian cafe. With Deli Italy opening in January, it will be “a little Italy in Guildford”.

Lead councillor for Economy, John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity), said: “The out of town shopping parades are doing well and the town centre appears to be getting busier. But it is a mixed bag and retail is changing so it is hard to say how retail in town will fare with supply issues and covid.

“There are many activities taking place over the festive season. I strongly recommend calling into Tourist Information to find out what else is going on in and around the town.”

Phone repair and accessories shop, Feng Tech, has opened in Swan Lane.

Misty & Claridge, pre-owned designer clothes shop, is a great addition in the attractive Chapel Street.

Tattam’s cocktail bar and coffee shop is open again after the fire in February 2020 forced them to close.

Tunsgate Quarter is hosting a Christmas market in the mall again this year.

There was a small queue waiting for covid PCR testing outside of the new London Medical Laboratory in Market Street. “Everywhere is fully booked” said one waiting customer.

You can get a fantastic photo opportunity in Phoenix Court in the huge snow globe attraction.

And there is always music in the town. ACM student, Jack Mason, has been busking in the town for the last seven years and is appreciated by young and old for his beautiful singing.

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Responses to Covid Uncertainty Hitting Retail But 14 New Town Shops Show Cautious Confidence

  1. A Thorniley Reply

    December 20, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Thank you to The Dragon for bringing to my attention these new retail outlets in the town. They are new for me, and I will try some out.

  2. Anna Deadman Reply

    December 21, 2021 at 7:55 am

    This is good news, especially about the independent traders.

    I was sad to see though that C&H is going from White Lion to much smaller premises with much less range.

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