Sunday, 26 September 2021

13th business to close this year

A HENLEY opticians is to close after 16 years, bringing the number of retailers in

A HENLEY opticians is to close after 16 years, bringing the number of retailers in the town to shut this year to 13.

Chilton Watson in Bell Street has blamed the decision on the threat of a rent increase of more than 30 per cent.

Four members of staff will lose their jobs and up to 3,000 patients will be affected.

The Henley Pharmacy next door is also under threat of closure. If this happened, it would bring the number of empty retail premises in Henley to 21 by the end of this month.

This is about 7.8 per cent of the total, which compares with a vacancy rate of 4.8 per cent in April last year and a national average of 13.2 per cent.

Six new retail businesses have opened or are about to do so.

Chilton Watson, which will close on August 31, is part of the Harrold Opticians group, which has 19 branches in England.

David Reeves, a director of the parent company, said the rent increase would have meant paying a figure of about £35,000 a year. He said: “Our lease is due to expire and the new lease would come in with a huge increase in rent.

“The increase was exceeding 30 per cent and we could not submit to a new lease for 10 years. It’s disappointing but that’s it.”

Manager Su Jones, who has worked at the branch for more than three years, and three part-time staff will be made redundant.

Mrs Jones said: “We can understand it from the company’s point of view because of the rent going up to this degree and the contract being asked for was very, very long. It was not sustainable — our profit would have had to double overnight.

“It’s a good company to work for and they tried to find us alternative employment but we are spread across the country so it’s quite difficult so when redundancy came we decided to take it.”

There has been an opticians at the Bell Street premises for about 30 years.

Mrs Jones, who plans to work as a locum, said: “We have got a lot of long-standing patients. Some of them have been coming to this opticians since before it was Chilton Watson and have carried on with us. Now we have got quite a lot of elderly people that feel a bit bewildered and are not sure where they can go and who can look after them.

“They’re quite angry as well, which is understandable as we have provided continuity for people and they don’t like change.

“Some of them I am quite concerned about because they are elderly and come in just to have a chat as it makes them feel comfortable.”

Mrs Jones, who lives in Windsor, added: “Henley is only small and if everyone is moving out people will go to the bigger places like Reading because there won’t be the amenities here.

“Henley will have to rely on the regatta and festival. It’s a great shame but it has happenened in other places.”

Meanwhile, the Henley Pharmacy could be forced to shut due to cuts in government funding to chemists.

The business is run by Green Cross, which operates in Oxfordshire and London.

Manager Vikash Patel said every pharmacy in England would be losing an average of £14,500 a year in grant cuts of six per cent due to take effect in October.

He said: “We will find out how badly it will affect us by January as by then we will know what the damage is.

“We could lose a massive amount, up to 50 per cent of our profit. It’s going to be hard.”

Mr Patel said the branch offered a number of private services to help offset the loss of Department of Health funding, including the morning after pill, malaria tablets and period-delaying tablets.

“We also do a range of cosmetics that you wouldn’t find in Boots or Tesco,” he said. “They are award-winning products and we are the only pharmacy in our group to offer that kind of product.

“The way I run this shop is for the needs of the people of Henley rather than a private company.”

Mayor Julian Brookes said the issue of vacant shops would be tackled by Henley’s new town manager Helen Barnett, from Crowsley, who will start work on September 1.

He said: “We need to be close to this and understand the reasons. We need to know if it’s rent or if it’s people moving from physical to online shopping.

“We also need to know how ‘easy’ it is to open a new premises. We have got a serious investment going in at Market Place Mews, which is due to start in September so clearly there is a serious future for retail in Henley.

“In an ideal world Henley Town Council would like to see 100 per cent occupancy.

“If more shops are closing than opening, then we need to find out why and see what we can do to make Henley more attractive.”

A spokesman for South Oxfordshire District Council, which is responsible for economic development, said: “We are working with the town council and Henley Business Partnership to address shop closures and empty shops in Henley.

“We are also providing funding to support the role of the new town manager, who will review the schemes currently in place before recommending new actions to benefit the town going forward.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “Look at the reasons why the shops are going to see if there is any pattern.

“If it is a question of high rents then the town council and town manager will need to seek support and take any actions required.

“The alternative view of looking at the turnover of shops is that it brings vitality to the town. You don’t want a static high street, you want a dynamic one with new shops opening and taking the place of old ones.”

Homewares shop Hubbledays in Duke Street will close later this month.

Neighbouring clothing shop Noa Noa shut in May.

The Vintage Look in Market Place will have its last day of trading on August 28.

It took over the former Spirited Wines premises in Market Place in June having previously operated from a two-storey unit at the back of Market Place Mews but was then told to leave due to redevelopment.

Womenswear shop CC, formerly Country Casuals, in Market Place, closed in June. It was part of a group owned by the collapsed menswear chain Austin Reed.

In April Duke Street jeweller Precious Love closed with owner Tom Bulgarelli claiming that Henley was being “marginalised” as a shopping destination.

Art and gift shop St Audrey’s, also in Duke Street, closed in February with owners Alison Burch and Jackie Redrup blaming competition from the internet.

In January the Stemtation florist shop in Market Place Mews closed after 13 years, although the business continues to trade online.

The other shops to have closed this year are Knights Oriental Rugs in Friday Street, Mistral and the Flower Shop in Bell Street, Travel Time in Market Place and the Barry Keene Gallery in Thames Side, which is set to be converted into a house.

Permission is being sought to convert Bell Street Baguettes into a residential unit.

Jonkers book shop has moved across Hart Street into the former Rive Gauche shop.

Bensons for Beds replaced Cargo in Market Place in January. Both brands are owned by Steinhoff UK.

Other openings included boutique Henley Frocks, which is run by Mandy Bowden and took over Knights Oriental Rugs’ former premises, and Charmosa Beauty, which went into the old St Audrey’s unit.

The Al Forno Italian restaurant opened at the former Casa Nostra in Reading Road and La Duca has opened in Market Place where Rossetti Ristorante used to be.

The Ferret antiques shop has returned to Friday Street in the former Yeuk skate shop site, which closed in December.

Estate agents Penny & Sinclair are set to open in the former Sotheby’s offices in Hart Street.

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