Saturday, 16 December 2017

Shop closure spells gloom

ANOTHER shop in a prime location in Henley is to close after 20 years.

ANOTHER shop in a prime location in Henley is to close after 20 years.

The flagship branch of women’s fashion chain Kaliko will be the fifth business in Market Place to shut since the start of the year.

It is a blow for the Henley Standard’s Think Local campaign, which was launched to support the town’s traders more than four years ago.

Kaliko’s 10-year lease on the premises expires on June 16 and staff have been told the company is not renewing it.

In 2009, the unit was sold to a new landlord for £830,000, £180,000 above the guide price. At the time, auctioneer Jones Lang LaSalle promoted it as an “impressive investment opportunity”.

In April last year, the store underwent refurbishment. Its light blue shop front was repainted grey to be more in keeping with the area. Kaliko joins a growing list of traders who have pulled out of Market Place this year.

In May, the Bloc Brazilian 2 coffee shop shut after 11 years.

Owners Oliver and David Gervaise-Jones said the business was running at a loss and could not compete with chains like Starbucks.

Clothes stores Revolution and Blue Moon also closed this month.

Maria del Mar Martinez de Osaba Ranon, the owner of Blue Moon, said she could not make ends meet because of high rent and rates.

In February, troubled video rental chain Blockbuster shut its Market Place outlet with the loss of six jobs. The premises is still vacant. The former CMP motor parts store in Reading Road also closed this month.

Owner Iain Ryan relaunched it as battery specialist the Battery Man in March, saying he was struggling to compete with online sellers.

There are now 14 empty units in Henley, up from eight in December.

This means about seven per cent are now unoccupied, which is still below the national average of 11.9 per cent.

Henley town centre manager Peter McConnell blamed the closures on high rents and rates and warned there would be more casualties unless the cost of running a shop in Henley became more affordable.

He said: “The face of the town has certainly changed since the start of the year and not in a good way. Disappointingly, I don’t actually think this is a cyclical phenomenon. Henley is now experiencing what a lot of other towns have experienced over the past five years.

“The nature of people’s spending on the high street has changed, coupled with rents and rates being particularly high.

“A number of retailers’ leases have come up for renewal in the past month or two and they have faced rent increases. For many, that has been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“They are experiencing marginal profitability anyway, so a marginal rent increase can take away what little profit they were making.”

Mr McConnell said chains and independent traders alike were feeling the pinch but some sectors were worse affected than others.

He said shops like supermarkets, grocers and pharmacists were less threatened because they sold essentials and emergency purchases.

Mr McConnell plans to bring local landlords together and encourage them to give discounts to struggling businesses.

He will also be raising awareness of the Government’s small business rate relief scheme, which is open to firms with a rateable value below £12,000 a year.

He said: “We have to make landlords see the collective effect of having lots of empty shops because it can become a downward spiral.

“We need to persuade them to take a more holistic view of Henley rather than just considering the one or two properties they might own.

“It’s a complex problem with several contributing factors but it all comes back to rent and rates in a tricky climate.

“The town council is aware of the problem but it’s very difficult to have an effect because we have little direct control over the cause.

“The general public often assumes that the town council can control these things but it can only do its best to influence them.”

Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “This may well turn out to be cyclical as we generally have a good record of occupancy in the town centre.

“It has taken a bit of a dive in the past few months but hopefully it will turn around.

“The word I’m getting from retailers is that it is very tough out there and rent and rates are the biggest complaint.

“I think landlords have to be realistic about the amount they charge companies. They must pitch at a reasonable figure to attract new businesses or it’s just going to get tougher and tougher.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said the council would be proactive in promoting Henley as a destination for visitors.

He said: “The great thing about Henley is we have lots of independent businesses and we want to keep it that way.

“We also have attractions like the River and Rowing Museum, which was recently named among the world’s top 50 museums, and we should be shouting loud and clear about that.

“If we can increase the footfall in Henley and encourage residents to shop in the town it will be very helpful for business.”

Henley MP John Howell said he would meet with the Henley Partnership to discuss how rent and rates were affecting shops and offer advice.

He said: “I am always looking for feedback from businesses but I want to get a detailed assessment of what is and is not happening on the ground.

“There will always be some fluctuation in the number of vacant properties and we should not be too worried by this unless it turns into a long-term trend.

“We just need to keep an eye on the situation and make sure it is nothing unusual.”

Kaliko’s parent company Alexon International did not reply to requests for comment.

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