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Guildford Retailers ‘Bracing Themselves for What’s to Come’ with Financial Uncertainty

Published on: 3 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 4 Oct, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

Traders in Guildford were “bracing themselves for what’s to come” as fears and uncertainty over energy prices, the war in Ukraine, inflation and the government’s handling of the financial crisis started to hit home.

The British Retail Consortium said consumers reined in spending in August “amidst the spiralling cost-of-living”. But it is a mixed picture in Guildford with high-end shops and food apparently doing well.

Gordo’s Mexican restaurant opened on North Street. Husband and wife team, Rafael ‘Gordo’ and Johanna Ornate said they have been fully booked up in the evenings since they opened in mid-September.

Local councillor and lead for Economy John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity) called for swift action from the government saying: “A stable economy is more important than low taxes. Whatever happens with central government decisions, I hope it happens quickly because we can’t go on like this.”

Carl Scarpa shoe shop in the High Street is one of the many new shops that have opened in the town centre recently.

The empty shop that was Partisan. In early September fitters were making the shop a blank canvas ready for the next business.

On a positive note, five new shops have opened in the past couple of months. They are either food outlets or high-end shops which continue to do well in prosperous Guildford.

On the other hand, five shops closed, including the sadly missed cheese shop, Partisan in Chapel Street.

But there is a feeling that things will get tougher. Camilla Mansour manager at Sleep.8 in The Friary, said they had a couple of fantastic months in the summer but she said it had been quiet since the Queen’s funeral. She said: “There is a tension around, we are all sort of waiting, especially about the coming winter. People are worried about the financial situation, the energy prices and the uncertain times.”

An Etsy craft market at the weekend in Tunsgate Quarter was bringing customers into what is usually a low footfall area. Traders leasing shops in the centre said they were pleased with the increased number of shoppers.

Owner of the phone repair shop Connect2Mobile in Swan Lane, Ali Shah said he was already affected by the fall in the pound. He said: “I am like a rabbit in the headlights, just staying still because of the uncertainty.”

A North Street shop manager said: “We’re doing alright but people are definitely watching what they are spending.”

Experience Guildford CEO Amanda Masters said: “It feels like people are bracing themselves for what’s to come. Covid has shown how resilient the town is but this is a new challenge now.”

A town centre empty shop survey by The Dragon showed the situation on vacant retail premises to be stable over the last two years with around one shop in five, or 20 per cent, empty. The recent count in September 2022 was 56 empty shops, almost the same as July 2020 when 57 empty shops were identified. There were 47 empty shops in pre-pandemic January 2019, a significant rise from 23 empty in 2018.

As usual, there has been a number of shops opening and some soon to open.

Rafael ‘Gordos’ Onate and Johanna Onate were nervous about opening Gordo’s Mexican restaurant at this uncertain time but they enthusiastically said it has gone well.

Gordo’s Mexican restaurant opened just two weeks ago in North Street. Located in the shop vacated by Patisserie Valerie over three years ago, Rafael ‘Gordos’ Onate and Johanna Onate said it was a family business. “We were nervous about opening but it’s been going really well. We have been fully booked every night since we opened.”

Kerrera craft beer and gin bar opened in Jeffries Passage. Owner Callum Stewart successfully crowdfunded at the start of his business and was delighted with the opening weekend.

Prestons are expanding into next door because of demand for their high-end jewellery say staff.

Havwoods Flooring opened in North Street and Wood and Stone Flooring shortly after in the upper High Street.

Carl Scarpa shoe shop opened in the High Street in the former Prestons shop.

Prestons themselves, the upmarket jewellers who moved into their swanky new premises in the High Street, are soon to take over premises next door. A staff member said: “It gets so busy in here we have had to expand.”

Ole & Steen Danish bakers are moving into the former Ted Bakers shop – chain store clothes converts to chain store food – and is expected to open in November.

Danish bakers, Ole & Steen, will be opening in the High Street in about six weeks workmen told The Dragon.

News that the Coppa Club restaurant chain is reportedly moving into the empty ex-Gap shop at the bottom of the High Street was greeted with delight by a manager at one of the more upmarket shops. He said they “really go to town” on the decor. I look forward to seeing it.

But there have also been a spate of shops closing. As well as the cheese shop, Partisan in Chapel Street there was Eye Academy in the High Street. Love Brownies in Tunsgate never seemed to take off compared to the other eateries close by and recently closed.

Deli Italy delicatessen in The Shambles closed down after only a few months. Owner Gianfranco Taormina said there had been an issue with the business partner. And Celly’s, the one price fits all hairdressers in North Street, closed after only a few months, with reports that staff recruitment had been an issue.

Celly’s hairdressers closed after only a few months in North Street. It was reported that staff recruitment had been a problem.

And the entertainment venue, Slice table tennis and bar in the ex-Cinderellas nightclub, also succumbed and closed its doors.

Love Brownies didn’t last long in Tunsgate, surprising considering the high footfall in the pedestrianised street. It is now the only empty shop in Tunsgate.

The former barbers on the High Street by Jeffries Passage is applying for permission to be a restaurant and hot food takeaway.

Work on the long-awaited expansion of Neptune furniture store into the former Post Office next door has come to a halt. Staff said they did not know why but they had been told it would be opened next year.

Epic Barbers in the High Street. Owner Ali Asadollahi is looking to open a tattoo studio and ladies hairdressing on the first floor.

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