THE New Year has ushered in mixed fortunes for Henley’s retail community.
Three shops in the town centre are about to shut but at least two vacant units are set to re-open.
Goldsmiths jewellers in Bell Street and the Black Hills Yarns wool shop and Jack’s Gallery 2, both in Hart Street, will close in the next few weeks.
However, new tenants have been lined up for the former Henley Villa homeware shop in Duke Street and the Bloc Brazilian 2 café in Market Place.
The gallery, which was a temporary “pop-up” venture at the former Dashwood Boat Club clothes shop, will shut on Tuesday.
Art dealer Jack Free, who owns Jack’s Gallery next door, opened it in November to sell surplus stock over Christmas. Mr Free, who deals exclusively in works by Scottish painter Jack Vettriano, said: “It was always my intention to close the second shop after two months so it’s not some kind of disaster.
“It has been a great success but it has been hard running two shops at the same time. I’ve been doing a lot of running back and forth.”
The unit was previously occupied by menswear shop Sullivans before it moved to Duke Street in 2012. Mr Free then took it over before moving to the adjacent premises.
Goldsmiths’ final day of trading will be next Saturday, according to posters outside the premises.
The jewellery chain is believed to have offered its staff new jobs at another branch in Reading.
Aurum Holdings, which owns Goldsmiths, refused to comment.
Penny Cole, who opened Black Hills Yarns in 2009, will close the shop next month — for the second time.
She shut the shop in January last year to focus on selling online and through her showroom in Watlington but failed to sell the lease, so she re-opened the store in September.
She had hoped to keep it open until her lease expires in April but says she is not making enough money to survive. She pays £19,000 a year in rent and business rates of about £7,600.
Mrs Cole, 66, from Watlington, said: “I’ve tried everything to make it a success but those rates make it impossible for a business like ours. My husband Brian calls them an ‘enterprise tax’ and that’s exactly what they are — they’re just a tax on small businesses. You don’t even get anything in return for them, not even getting your bins emptied.
“Henley rents are extortionate but we’ve never had a problem with them and we understand landlords have mortgages to pay too. The rates are adding to that burden and for no added value. The money goes straight to the Government.”
Black Hills Yarns will still trade online and at Watlington and will continue running knitting workshops at St Nicholas’ Church in Rotherfield Greys.
Meanwhile, estate agent Simmons & Sons says Henley Villa and Bloc Brazilian 2 should be re-occupied later this month.
A spokeswoman said a new lease on the shop had been signed and one was about to be signed on the café. She would not name the new tenants but said neither was planning a change of use.
Henley Villa closed in September after trading for more than 40 years.Owner David Noades, whose father Mike founded the business in 1971, said he could no longer meet his running costs and was losing customers to the internet.
Bloc Brazilian 2 closed in May last year after 11 years. Owners Oliver and David Gervaise-Jones said they were losing money because of competition from national chains.
Henley MP John Howell warned against drawing conclusions from the latest changes in the high street.
He said: “You can’t just look at the number of shops that are coming or going at a static point. They are going to be changing all the time and you have to acknowledge that.
“Henley is an excellent place to do business and has some great shops. I frequent it regularly and am very pleased to be able to do so.
“Unfortunately, we do lose a few shops but then we always gain a few as well and I think that turnover is actually quite healthy.”
Mr Howell took up the issue of business rates with the Chancellor following a meeting with Henley business owners in the autumn.
“As a result, he agreed to include a £1,000 discount for properties with a rateable value of up to £50,000 in his autumn statement,” he said.
“I believe this is a neat way of dealing with the issue as it helps small businesses, whether they are start-ups or existing ones.”
Two of Henley’s restaurants could also be about to change hands.
The Green Olive in Market Place has been put up for sale as owner Leo Charmantas says the business is struggling.
A sister branch in Chobham is also on the market but a third one in Windsor is not.
Mr Charmantas says that if he sold one of the restaurants he would take the other one off the market and invest the sale proceeds in it.
The Henley outlet, which opened 13 years ago, was operated as a franchise before it closed for refurbishment last month. It will re-open later this month.
Mr Charmantas said: “Henley has been a bit of an odd one for the past couple of years.
“With the impact of the recession it is quite difficult to know what customers want and, to be fair, some of the standards had slipped a little below what we expected.
“People can forget you’re there when you’re well established and the recession has made it harder to keep three restaurants going.
“Making changes across all three is like turning a large tanker, which is why we’re thinking of selling one.”
The guide price for the Henley restaurant is £99,500, which covers the leasehold of the 97-seater premises and the flat above it. It has a turnover is £294,000 a year and net annual profit of less than £50,000.
Meanwhile, Simmons & Sons confirmed an unnamed party was negotiating a new lease on the Royal China in Reading Road.
The Chinese restaurant used to be based in Duke Street but moved out of the town centre in 2008.
The old premises was empty for nearly five years before coffee chain Costa took it over in September.
* The National Tyres and Autocare garage in Reading Road, Henley, has closed. The signage has been stripped from the building and replaced by a sign directing customers to Thamesview Tyres in Newtown Road.