Thursday, 17 August 2017

Another shop shuts with more to follow

A GIFT shop in Henley has closed and two more traders are to follow suit.

A GIFT shop in Henley has closed and two more traders are to follow suit.

Down-To-Earth in Bell Street, which opened in 2007, closed on Friday with the loss of three part-time jobs.

American fashion boutique Peruvian Connection, whose only UK store is in Bell Street, will move to King’s Road in Chelsea at the end of July and Modern art trader Askew Art, of Duke Street, will be leaving for London around the same time.

The closures comes just a week after the Henley Standard reported that fashion chain Kaliko is to shut its flagship store in Market Place next month.

It means that, as things stand, a total of 17 Henley stores will be empty by late summer - the highest total since late 2009, when 21 were vacant. However, the vacancy rate of around eight per cent will still be better than the national average of around 12 per cent.

Down to Earth owner Andrew Elias blamed poor sales this year for his decision to close the shop.

Mr Elias, 29, who also has branches in Wallingford and Wantage, said: “It was a heart-wrenching decision. The last thing we want to be doing is shutting shops and letting our customers down but the economics don’t work any more.

“Our sales are growing in every other area of the business but our footfall and sales in Henley have been very low in 2013.”

Mr Elias, who lives in Benson and runs the business with his wife Emily and mother Paula, said: “We decided we should take the opportunity to cut our losses and focus our energies on parts of the business that are doing well.

“We weren’t losing money but the signs weren’t encouraging enough for us to continue. It looked like too much of a risk.

“It’s a shame because Henley should, in theory, be the place where our sales are strongest. Perhaps it’s because of competition or maybe it’s just that shoppers are complacent - they assume shops will always be there.”

Mr Elias said his business rates had doubled from £5,500 a year to £11,000 in six years but he blamed changes in people’s shopping habits rather than rising costs.

He said: “It’s very easy to blame rent and rates but if our takings are going down it isn’t our landlord’s fault. It’s because people want to shop elsewhere.

“Our rent never increased in all the time we were open but our sales were stagnating and in the past six months they were starting to fall.

“People seem to feel more comfortable shopping with the big brands than local independents and there are more and more big brands coming into Henley.

“People also like to shop on the internet. Our online sales have doubled since we started selling from our website in September. We are still a bricks-and-mortar retailer but you need an online presence to sustain a business these days.”

Mr Elias warned there would be more bad news if residents did not support local shops.

He said: “I’ve spoken to a lot of the independents and many of them are living on the edge, no two ways about it. I know for a fact that a couple in Bell Street are teetering on the brink and would leave if they could.

“If people want to have nice shops in town, they are going to have to support them or they will not last.”

Askew Art owner Sue Boyles said: “The business is still thriving but it needs to be in London because that’s where my principal audience is based.”

When the business opened in September 2010, Henley MP John Howell hailed it as “yet another sign of how well Henley is doing”.

The owner of Peruvian Connection, who lives in America, was visiting Henley this week but did not respond to requests for comment.

Henley town centre manager Peter McConnell was meeting with South Oxfordshire District Council this week to discuss high street trade.

He said: “Businesses in Henley have faced a perfect storm of factors and it’s a very tough environment.

“You’ve got rent, rates, the internet, rotten weather and the recession all happening at the same time. You can’t just address these things individually — there needs to be a holistic approach.”

Mr McConnell also hopes to hold talks with local landlords and persuade them to lower their rents.

He will also urge them to consider allowing “pop-up” leases, a form of short-term temporary letting.

On Monday, the Centre for Retail Research warned that one in five UK shops could close in the next five years with the loss of 140,000 jobs.

* Henley Hair and Beauty’s premises in Bell Street are up for sale, together with the flats above.The salon’s lease runs until 2015 and it has not announced any plans to close.

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