Friday, 24 September 2021

Another shop closure blamed on internet

A HENLEY homeware store is to close only a few months before its 20th anniversary.

A HENLEY homeware store is to close only a few months before its 20th anniversary.

David Jack, the owner of Hubbleday’s in Duke Street, says the business is no longer profitable because too many customers now shop online.

He was also facing a “significant” increase in his annual rent of £26,000 and says he would have struggled to pay this alongside business rates of £11,300.

The shop is holding a closing down sale and will cease trading once the stock has gone.

It is the second Henley business which Mr Jack has shut this year. Last month he announced the closure of the neighbouring Noa Noa boutique, which he and business partner Marilyn Farmar ran as franchisees.

The pair, who took over in 2013, blamed online competition and mounting costs.

Two other shops in Duke Street have closed this year with one blaming competition from the internet.

Hubbleday’s is an independent store that was founded by Susan Hubble in November 1996.

Mr Jack took over in 2001 and said footfall had steadily declined since then with transactions dropping from almost 14,000 in 2010 to just over 8,500 last year.

He said he had been deliberating over renewing the lease on Hubbleday’s for several months and made his decision after learning of the proposed rent increase.

Mr Jack, who lives in Chiswick, said: “Even without that increase, I felt staying wasn’t viable. Footfall has dropped dramatically and the internet is a big factor in that.

“Consumers want the best deal so they’ll come in to look at items then buy them cheaper online. I can’t afford to be a showroom for other people.

“That’s not the only problem — the diversity of Henley’s retail offering is in decline and that makes it a less attractive destination.

“We have more charity shops and coffee shops than ever before. Customers from elsewhere say it’s harder to justify visiting because they can no longer find everything they need here.

“High street trading is fine if you’re a well-known brand with control over your supply chain but if you’re a general retailer selling items made by other manufacturers, it’s incredibly tough.

“You can’t make the necessary margins and the costs spiral. You have to turn over huge amounts just to pay your rent and rates and then there’s staff costs, which have gone up as a result of the Government’s living wage.

“The internet retailers have much lower overheads. A friend of mine used to run a shop but now trades from an industrial unit so he pays no rates and less rent. He can afford to undercut all his old competitors.

“I was hopeful when the Government announced it was raising the threshold for small business rate relief this year. However, that only went to traders with a rateable value below £15,000 and I doubt that includes any Henley businesses.

“I’m not so much a small business as a ‘micro-business’ but I pay all these rates and still have to pay for my own waste collection. It’s a horribly disproportionate cost compared with the challenges retail is facing.”

Mr Jack added: “I’ve enjoyed trading in Henley and count many customers among my friends. It feels like a second home and if I can find a way to continue working here I will take it.”

Gillian Nahum, who is a director of the Henley Business Partnership, said: “I’m not surprised that Hubbleday’s is going but it is a great shame as it really added to the town’s diversity.

“Henley will be much poorer without it and it will be greatly missed.

“It is a very, very difficult time for independent retail.

“It’s tough maintaining a vibrant high street in a town of about 10,000 people as there’s so much competition from the internet and large towns like Reading.

“Everyone says they’re sick of the same old chains but they won’t have anything else if people don’t support the quirky little businesses.

“Independents have the best chance of surviving if they organise lots of events and stay in touch with customers via social media.

“However, that’s very demanding on top of everyday tasks like buying and monitoring stock.”

Mrs Nahum, who runs the Boatique gift shop in Friday Street, added: “I’m happy with the mix of shops on Friday Street, especially as the new frock shop has just opened, but every day I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to continue.”

In April Duke Street jeweller Precious Love shut and owner Tom Bulgarelli said Henley was being “marginalised” as a shopping destination.

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

In recent months, the Stemtation florist shop in Market Place Mews and the Yeuk skate shop in Friday Street, both independent retailers, have also closed. The former now trades online.

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