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Town Centre Update: ‘Footfall Down But Spending Up’ as More Shops Open Than Close

Published on: 21 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 21 Jan, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford’s town centre looks buoyant. You wouldn’t tell by looking that we have narrowly avoided a national recession and households are said to be cutting back on spending. 

Traders in Guildford said business was good at Christmas even though footfall was down.

It says a lot that business chains and independents are confident enough to be investing in Guildford’s high street retail with more shops opening than closing down. But traders in the town are still reporting a level of uncertainty with the rising cost of living, inflation, war in Ukraine and government instability all being cited as reasons.

One trader predicted 2023 would be a “tough year”.

Amanda Masters, Experience Guildford CEO, was cautiously optimistic, saying: “Consumer spend was up in the last quarter of 2022. The worry is that people will start to feel the pinch now and cut back.”

Gordos, the Mexican restaurant in North Street, was “busier than we expected” said owner, Gordo, “We were fully booked throughout December.”

John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said: “It was fantastic to see the High Street so busy over Christmas but obviously, there is a worry going forward with many factors outside of our control.”

One trader said: “It’s been a good start to the year. Footfall is down but spending is up.”

Examples of high street retail success is The White Company in the Tunsgate Quarter where stellar performance puts it in the “top ten of the company’s stores nationally” said assistant manager, Eamen Woodford.

She said: “It’s because Guildford is an affluent area and we don’t have direct competition for our products. We are more a lifestyle than a shop, a mini department store.”

Sharps furniture shop open in December 2022. A staff member said: “We were in Guildford before. Business has been really good.”

The new bakery, Ole & Steen, having spent months on a shop refit, burst onto the High Street with queues outside and packed inside. “It’s new” said one waiting customer. “We wanted to see what it was like.”

New bakers in the High Street, Ole and Steen, also opened in December and created a stir with queues waiting to get in.

And the £8 million refurbishment of White Lion Walk is coming to an end now. It had been earlier reported they would open for Christmas 2022 but staff now say March 2023 for the substantial completion of the front, back and interior upgrade.

Staffing appears to be a common problem, especially for hospitality venues. Jane Lyons, landlady at The Keep in Castle Street and chair of Guildford’s Pub Watch, said: “Staffing is a nightmare. We are back to 2019 levels of business but it’s hard to know what’s normal.

“We’ve had to increase our wages to attract and keep our staff. We are now opening five days a week and only have staff at the weekends.”

The new stores opened in the town centre are: bakers Ole & Steen, Sharps fitted furniture company in upper High Street, Jo & The Juice and V&M vape and mobile in the High Street. Deli Italy has re-opened in The Shambles after closing down as a delicatessen. It has come back up as another cafe. Guildford Smiles dentists have newly opened in Phoenix Court and Black Sheep Coffee finally opened in North Street after a year’s delay.

Coming soon include: Megans (High Street), Sharpline Barbers (Angel Gate), Cupp bubble tea (North Street), Starel tiles and mosaics (upper High Street), Elem hair and beauty salon (Tunsgate Quarter), The Kitchen Shop (Chertsey Street), Hamptons estate agents (upper High Street) and The Copper Club (High Street).

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In all, seven new shops opened and eight opening soon, but the “not so good” news is seven shops empty and looking desolate.

The furniture store, India Jane, based in the design award-winning premises at the top of the High Street, closed down after less than two years. We have asked them to comment on what happened. The lease on the High Street unit for Cos clothing expired and they haven’t renewed.

The H&M brand, Jack Wills, in the High Street, finally closed after a long time drifting in retail limbo. Eye Academy opticians (High Street), Hungry Buddha food (Friary Street), Bisou + Bisou lingerie and swimwear (Castle Street) all closed.

Times are tough. Hazet Turkish restaurant in Chapel Street only opened in 2021 but had a bailiff notice in the window.

Hazet Turkish restaurant, only opened in 2021, is now closed with bailiff messages in the window. The gym in the Tunsgate Quarter has also shut. A note on the door gives the cause as “financial difficulties due to the pandemic and the current economic environment”.

The furniture store Neptune has stopped work on their expansion into the former post office building next door. Staff said the company had bought the building but they didn’t know when the construction work would start again, if ever.

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