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Further Signs Of Strain On Town Centre Retail As Shops Collapse Into Insolvency

Published on: 9 Mar, 2019
Updated on: 12 Mar, 2019

by Hugh Coakley

There have been further signs of pressure on retail in Guildford town centre with three well-known brands, LK Bennett, Giraffe, and Solutions Inc, all going into insolvency.

LK Bennett, the upmarket fashion chain with a branch in Guildford High Street, made an operating loss of nearly £6m on sales of £77.4m in the year to July 29, 2017.

LK Bennett branch in Guildford’s High Street is in administration. A sign in the window says that it still recruiting.

The founder, Linda Bennett, was quoted in the national press saying: “These are difficult and unstable times, and we are doing everything we can to identify the best way forward.”

Staff in Guildford shop today (Friday, March 8) said that they have not been told of the fate of the shop but to continue trading as normal.

Giraffe in the upper High Street has entered into a company voluntary arrangement.

Giraffe, part of the Boparan Restaurant Group, went into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with plans to close almost a third of its 87 restaurants. A staff member in the Guildford branch in the upper High Street said that they were awaiting an announcement from the company as to whether the Guildford restaurant would remain open.

It was reported that restaurant insolvencies increased by 25% in 2018 with increased costs, competition and uncertainty over Brexit being cited as reasons.

Sign in window of Solutions Inc in Friary Street, Guildford refers customers either to Apple or to a law firm.

Solutions Inc, the IT Apple specialist with a shop in Friary Street, was closed recently. The collapse was reported in the IT press with reports that its shops in Bournemouth, Chelmsford, Chichester and St Albans have also closed but the Hove branch was still open.

A brief message was posted on the website and in the window of the Friary Street shop.

The three collapsed companies come after other shops have struggled in Guildford and nationally, including Mothercare, Maplins and HMV. Two major department stores, House of Fraser and Debenhams, have also had a difficult year. It is thought that there will be more chains closing in 2019.

The downturn in retail in Guildford has driven a reduction in the amount of retail space planned by Guildford Borough Council in the North Street development. The major development, an important aspect in the draft Local Plan, was changed from ‘retail led’ to ‘primarily residential’ in an announcement in January 2019. (see also North Street Plans Change To Primarily Residential Due To Retail Problems).

Cllr Tony Rooth, Guildford Borough Council councillor for the Pilgrims ward and leader of the Independent Alliance group.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS counted 42 empty shops in the town centre today. This is more than previously reported in an Opinion article by Cllr Tony Rooth in The Guildford Dragon NEWS in August 2018. However, a street-by-street comparison shows little difference since July 2018 but a marked increase since January 2018.

One notable difference in the town centre is the increase to eight in the number of charity shops. A report in 2017 by the think tank Demos indicated that charity shops had a positive influence on the high street but an increase in charity shops in a high street was perceived to be associated with decline.

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