Fringe Box



Further Town Centre Shop Closures As High Street Challenge Deepens

Published on: 7 Jun, 2019
Updated on: 7 Jun, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

There have been further shop closures in Guildford town centre highlighting the current difficulties faced by high street retail and restaurants.

The clothing retail chain Edinburgh Woollen Mill will close on June 22. And both the Mexican restaurant chain Burrito Loco and the Indian restaurant Chilli Pickle have closed their town centre branches in the last fortnight.

The pressure on businesses of high rent and rates and reducing numbers of shoppers visiting the high street is taking its toll. Looking at the national retail trends, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) , the trade association for UK retailers, reported a 2.7% reduction in total retail sales in May.

The chief executive of BRC, Helen Dickinson, said: “With the biggest decline in retail sales on record, the risk of further job losses and store closures will only increase.”

Edinburgh Woollen Mill in North Street is to close. A sign in the window stated: “We regret to announce that this store will be closing. Our final trading day will be Saturday 22nd June.”

Against this backdrop and after protracted negotiations with the landlord, Edinburgh Woollen Mill posted a notice in the North Street shop window to say it was finally closing the Guildford branch. Press reports say the Winchester branch is also closing.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS reported last December that the shop would close but only ‘subject to landlord negotiations.’ It would appear that these negotiations have been unsuccessful. The empty shelves in the store today told their own story.

The Mexican cuisine chain Burrito Loco is moving to Guildford Spectrum, but leaves a big gap in North Street.

Next door to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the Mexican cuisine restaurant chain Burrito Loco has closed and moved into its new location at Guildford Spectrum. The Burrito Loco name has already been removed from the front and internal fixtures and fittings taken away.

This leaves a big gap at the top end of North Street with the post office having moved to WH Smith in the High Street and the café Fresh Choices closed in April. The only shops that will now remain on that side of North Street, past the public library, are the Venus Nail Bar and Moffats, the independent outdoor equipment and fashion retailer, with five shops having closed.

Chilli Pickle, the Indian restaurant in Upper High Street, closed at the end of May 2019 after less than one year open.

Although not part of a chain, another restaurant, Chilli Pickle, the Indian restaurant in Upper High Street, closed last week after being open in Guildford for less than a year. Its website stated: “After much consideration it is with great sadness that we have had to make the difficult decision to close The Chilli Pickle Guildford.”

Contrary to the depressing news, shop vacancies in Guildford give a rosier picture than national trends with an improving rate of 5.8% vacant shops in this quarter, to April 2019, compared to 6.6% in the last quarter.

On this measure, Guildford outperforms most parts of the UK and is better than the average 8.5% vacancy rate in the South East. Footfall figures however show a stubborn downward trend with reductions being reported monthly.

Boots, with seven outlets in Guildford, could close some branches.

Nationally, and in Guildford as well, retail chains are cutting down on their high street capacity. Ashley Armstrong, the Telegraph’s retail editor, said in her column this week: “The biggest names in retail are falling over themselves to shrink their presence on the high street. Some are rebranding store closures as ‘right-sizing’ while others are calling it ‘re-shaping’ but the likes of Boots, Marks & Spencer and Arcadia are all scrambling to fix the problem of having too many expensive shops while shopper numbers dwindle.”

Boots, with seven branches in Guildford, has been reported to be considering closing shops as leases expire or in areas where there is more than one Boots branch (see “Will All Seven Guildford Branches Of Boots Survive Closure Programme?

Topshop in a prime location in The Friary. The topshop owner, Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, has had its CVA proposals rejected by landlords which may lead to the group going into administration.

The fate of Arcadia, with a large branch of Topshop in The Friary, was reported as “being in the balance” after landlords rejected the company voluntary arrangement (CVA) plan offered by Sir Philip Green. Failure to gain agreement to the CVA could mean that the Arcadia group goes into administration.

And in a rapidly evolving situation, The Guardian reported yesterday (June 6) that the owner of the Monsoon and Accessorize retail chains, both in prime spots in Guildford High Street, had delayed plans to launch its own CVA after the failure of Arcadia to get the agreement of the landlords.

A number of chains in Guildford have already closed including Thomas Cook, Mothercare, Maplins, Steamer Trading Cookshop, New Look, Jamie’s Italian and West Cornwall Pasty Co with Debenhams planned to close in early 2020 and Homebase in August 2019.

Owners of Monsoon and Accessorize, with prime locations in the High Street, have been reported to be seeking a CVA.

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