Monday, 20 September 2021

Empty Shops Fill Up Again

THE number of empty shops in Henley is almost at a record low.

THE number of empty shops in Henley is almost at a record low.

Only 13 of the 269 retail units in the town centre are currently vacant and six of those are already let or under offer.

This means that Henley will soon have a shop vacancy rate of just 2.6 per cent, compared with the national average of 13.2 per cent.

This is the best figure since the Henley Standard launched its Think Local campaign in February 2009, when the number of empty shops was 34.

Of the units currently vacant, the former Blockbuster store in Market Place, Rules of Beauty in Hart Street, the Simon Drew Art Works shop in New Street and Johnson’s dry cleaners in Bell Street are all under offer.

The former Deep Clothing premises in Reading Road, which has been closed since August, is set to become Central Home, a furniture shop.

Duke Street furniture shop Browns, which closed last month after 25 years, is to be taken over by Vinegar Hill, a gifts and homeware chain.

The other seven empty premises are Mountain View, the Nepalese restaurant in Reading Road, which closed last month, the Casa Nostra restaurant, also in Reading Road, the Hearn of Henley shoe shop, Antico restaurant and Revolution, all in Market Place, Foam Fashion in Hart Street and the Henley Kitchen Studio in Reading Road.

According to an annual survey compiled for South Oxfordshire District Council, the recovery has been growing steadily for more than a year.

The report by the Local Data Company said there had been a notable increase in footfall in Henley during events such as the royal regatta in July and the second jazz and blues week in November.

It also noted the working relationship between the town and district councils in helping to fund shop front improvements. Businesses to have received grants include Henley Cycles in Reading Road, Upstairs and Downstairs in Duke Street, Bagatelle Toys and the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street, Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street and Cannelle Beauty in Hart Street.

In a separate initiative, empty shop fronts have been decorated. A chalk board was put up at the former Blockbuster store and people were invited to doodle messages and pictures. This was later replaced with lifestyle products from Humphreys of Henley to make the shop look occupied.

Rules of Beauty was decorated with a knitted window display and had a poster for Lady Sew and Sew, a fabrics warehouse in Farm Road.

Mayor Martin Akehurst said: “It is great there are now so few empty shops in Henley. By 2016 or 2017, I don’t see why we couldn’t have full retail.

“If you walk down a street in Reading you see empty shops and short-term leases but Henley is the opposite â?? it has ballast and shops stay and survive.”

He said the town’s growing list of festivals and events helped improve footfall.

“These help people to see what Henley is when they come so they will come back,” he said.

“Christmas is a perfect example â?? all the events then help bring people into the town, which helps local business. The summer sees even more events.

“There has been a conscious effort over the last eight years to promote Henley, the whole town, and to bring people in.”

Gillian Nahum, a director of the Henley Business Partnership and owner of Boatique in Friday Street, said: “It is good that we do not have so many empty spaces â?? there’s nothing worse than vacant shops â?? and it’s fantastic that businesses want to come here.

“I would say that filling all the shop spaces is achievable but we should be wary not to have too many cafés or charity shops because they run on a different business model.”

Peter McConnell, the town centre manager, said: “I am really pleased. Despite being a small town, we have a large catchment area and people see Henley as their town even if they live further away.

“It’s great that so many businesses want to come here. If rents were lower the shop spaces might be full.”

He said another initiative designed to increase footfall was the new farmers’ market, which will be held on the second Saturday of each month, starting tomorrow (8.30am to 2pm).

The market already takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month but Mr McConnell said that having another one at the weekend would enable people who work during the week to visit it.

He added: “Our farmers’ market is a small gem.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “It is a good thing that the vacancy rates have gone down but you can’t judge much on isolated examples.

“I think this is a very strong trend that shows the town is vibrant and healthy.

“That reflects in the unemployment figures, which are the best in the country.”

There is a similar picture in South Oxfordshire’s other market towns.

Thame has just six empty shops out of a total of 186 retail units while Wallingford has 12 out of 138. This gives a vacancy rate of just over four per cent across the district.

John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Our close co-operation with businesses, town councils and the wider community has seen our market towns continue to thrive.

“We’ll continue to do all we can to help new businesses take up these empty premises and ensure that our towns keep flourishing.”

The Henley Standard’s Think Local campaign is designed to support and promote the local community by encouraging residents to band together and help each other.

It was launched after what was thought to be the highest total of empty shops in the town’s history.

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email

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