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One Shop Closes and Two Open – But Pressure On High Street Businesses Continues

Published on: 29 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 2 May, 2019

Fresh Choices, another Guildford shop that has closed.

By Hugh Coakley

The cycle of Guildford businesses opening and closing continues.

Fresh Choices closes Sign in the window of the North Street cafe.

Fresh Choices the cafe in North Street, which had been open for business in the town centre for 20 years, ceased trading in mid-April.

But two new shops have arrived and opened. iStore, in Friary Street, in a like-for-like move, replaces the failed Solutions Inc computer shop and Purrfect Pets opened in White Lion Walk with customers flocking to the new store which opened on Saturday (April 26).

Elsewhere rents and business rates are continuing to add pressure. The latest indications of strain in Guildford include the announcement of the Debenhams closure and Cotswold Outdoors starting a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).

This may mean that the Guildford branch of the outdoor clothing and equipment chain shop in Friary Street might also close.

And empty space is appearing on House of Fraser floors. One customer said in the store on Saturday: “There seems to be a lack of stock and plenty of space in here at the moment.” The fourth floor in House of Fraser has now been given over to a “Clearance” section, largely devoting the huge retail floor space to the sale of luggage.

One informed Guildford Dragon NEWS source has described the crippling overhead costs faced by Guildford shopowners.

Mothercare in North Street closed earlier this year. It had an estimated rent and rates overhead of £250k per annum.

He estimated the combined rent and rates of shops that had closed in the last year as: £144,000 per annum for Wesley – Barrell, £130,000 pa for Maplins and a huge, £250,000 pa for Mothercare. He said: “At that cost, just to open the doors, independent shops do not stand a chance.”

Edinburgh Woollen Mill in North Street is one of many retailers that have been discussing rents with landlords. A sign in their window in December 2018 said that they would be closing but “subject to landlord negotiations.”

And a Dragon article in March 2019 highlighted the importance of landlords setting realistic rents to ensure that properties were let.

Debenhams’ Guildford store is set to close in early 2020. Speculation has focussed on the future use of the site.

There have been many warnings over Debenhams’ future and the announcement of its closure next year had lost any shock value. Locally, reaction to the news has been mixed.

Social media comments took a nostalgic look over the 50 plus years of the shop on the banks of the Wey including from those that had worked in the store. One person said: “So sad…my waters broke in there, no joke.” Another said: “My sis and brother in law worked in Knobs and Knockers.”

But people were mainly thinking about the future of the site. Housing was the expectation of the majority of those who commented. Other suggestions even included go-kart racing and a casino.

Cllr David Bilbe

David Bilbe, lead councillor for Enterprise and Economic Development for Guildford Borough Council, said: “It is a sad day for Guildford. We don’t want to lose names like Debenhams in the town but we can’t legislate for economic conditions.

“Whatever takes its place has to be in keeping and it has to be the right thing.”

John Rigg, chair of the Guildford Vision Group, said: “It offers a great opportunity to improve this hugely important location.

John Rigg, GVG

“It is more than likely to become residential. With apartments fronting the river, and with easy access to the town centre, it would make a very attractive addition to the town centre housing stock.

“GVG has consistently advocated improving the riverside and public access to it. Here is a real chance to do just that, with perhaps a mooring for barges in the adjoining basin to bring back riverside vitality and activity.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Caroline Reeves, leader of the Liberal Democrats at the borough council, said: “As the store has been reducing its sales floor area steadily over the last few years I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this news, although it is of course disappointing. As an important town centre, riverside site, I am sure that there will much discussion about its future use and there will be no lack of ideas put forward.”

Close to the other end of the High Street the closure of Fresh Choices cafe is a further blow to the top end of North Street which is beginning to look quite empty. The Post Office, which always appears to be busy and attracts a lot of custom to this end of the town, will be moving to WH Smith in the High Street in May (2019). This will inevitably reduce footfall for nearby businesses further.

Fresh Choices, with the lighter blue facia board, has closed closes leaving a hole in the shops in North Street. The Post Office is to move to WH Smith in May and The Steamer Trading Company on the High Street (behind the statue on the left of the photo), closed in last month, the cafe Caracoli, on the top floor, having ceased trading in December.

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Responses to One Shop Closes and Two Open – But Pressure On High Street Businesses Continues

  1. Mark Worley Reply

    April 29, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    New model shop opening in Stoke Road on Wednesday.

  2. Dave Middleton Reply

    April 30, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Not quite the High Street, but a new independent bike shop is open for business on Kingpost Parade (opposite Aldi) at Burpham. Ace Bicycles has taken over the shop previously occupied by Cycle Works.

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