Monday, 24 September 2018

Charity shops 'killing our high street trade'

Laurence Morris

A HENLEY trader is calling for a change in the law to stop the town being swamped by charity shops.

Laurence Morris, who owns Laurence Menswear in Duke Street, says they should no longer receive a discount on their business rates, claiming it gives them an unfair advantage over independent retail businesses such as his.

There are six charity shops in the town, five of which are in Duke Street. These include the Thames Hospice shop which opened at the former No 27 menswear unit, next door to Mr Morris’s shop, in November.

Mr Morris spoke out at a meeting of the town’s retail and hospitality forum, where representatives of about 20 Henley businesses discussed ways of improving footfall, including the annual regatta window display competition and improvements to commercial waste collections.

He said: “The number one issue is the lack of footfall and these initiatives are only touching the surface.

“Charity shops are one problem. I know you can’t stop landlords renting to whoever they like but we have to canvass at government level as they should definitely be paying business rates. We would see how many could survive then.

“They are killing our high street and it’s happening everywhere.

“Another issue is the lack of parking and people not wanting to visit because traffic makes it too hard to get into town. Many of our customers say it is far easier to park in Marlow, which is a shame.”

Town manager Helen Barnett, who chaired the meeting, said: “We all have to be positive as the more positive we are, the more happy and satisfied our shoppers will be.

“I know we have a few more charity shops than we might like but we need to work together on this.If we are constantly negative, it will create the perception that things are bad in Henley and might put shoppers off.

“It’s about adding value to your customers’ experiences and giving them something they can’t buy online.

“Parking is a problem as Henley is a medieval market town but the council is pursuing solutions to get more people out of their cars.”

Jessica Hayes, of Fat Face in Bell Street, said good service alone wouldn’t solve the problem as her shop scored highly in a recent “mystery shopper” visit but still experienced a reduction in footfall.

Henley’s other charity shops are Sue Ryder, the Oxfam bookshop, Cancer Research UK and Helen and Douglas House, all in Duke Street, and another Oxfam shop in Market Place.

All charity shops are eligible for a discount on their rates, typically 80 per cent, and can apply for a “top-up” relief of up to 20 per cent from South Oxfordshire District Council, the collecting authority.

Mr Morris’s concerns were echoed by Ricky Martin, the owner of the Patisserie Franco-Belge bakery in Duke Street.

He told BBC Radio Oxford that the growth of charity shops and coffee shops in Henley was deterring shoppers.

He said: “It’s a downward spiral. One retailer will go, which affects footfall, then others follow. It has an impact on the community because the town centre starts dying.

“People say we should do something before it’s too late but in many ways it already is.

Mr Martin has previously warned that his shop could close after 60 years due to less footfall and competition from market traders selling takeaway food.

He said: “I want to stay and modernise but we need to know we’ll get the business.

“I’m not asking for favours and accept the need to be competitive but it has to be on a level playing field.

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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