Thursday, 24 June 2021

Road closure caused by fire hit trade, say shopkeepers

TRADERS in Watlington high street are urging shoppers to return following a devastating fire which closed the road for four weeks.

Many said they had seen a significant drop in trade while the one-way road was shut following the blaze at hardware store DG Homecare on April 7.

Derek and Glennys Starling’s business and home were wrecked in the fire and the building has been boarded up and fenced off.

The street re-opened on Friday but shopkeepers said it would take time for footfall to return to previous levels and some complained they hadn’t been told about the likely length of the closure.

Loraine Daniels, co-owner of lighting store Bella Luce, said: “Because it was four weeks it probably affected our trade by 75 per cent.

“The main impact was on the parking situation. We still had visibility with people coming up Couching Street but nobody could stop because they couldn’t get down the high street to take one of the spaces.

“A lot of people come to Watlington knowing they can get a space on the high street. They can stop for 10 minutes and then off they go. We’re very much a visual shop. People see us and think ‘I must have a look’ but if they can’t stop we have no footfall.

“Yes, the the road is open now but people don’t know and also might have gone somewhere else.”

Liza Simon, manager of the chocolate shop Tutu Delicious, which is next to DG Homecare, said: “Our business was at least halved by the road closure.

“We were able to carry on because we had such a great Easter but without that boost it might have been really difficult. A lot of customers are from outside Watlington but there wasn’t any parking space nearby for them.

“We really feel for Mr and Mrs Starling. They have lost their shop, which is absolutely horrific, but what we didn’t want was for anything else to happen down the street.

“We’re a tiny little shopping area and we have been trying so hard to build up the shops, so closing the road for four weeks was hard on us. A lot of us are independent so we count on our weekly takings.” Elaine Martin, who runs Gingko of London, which specialises in up-cycled furniture and silver jewellery, said she had lost 80 per cent of her trade.

She explained: “The effect was horrendous for me — the business almost came to a standstill. We rely on people coming into town.”

She was pleased the road had
re-opened but said it would take time for trade to improve.

Amanda Hinton, who runs cookware shop K is for Kitchen, said that her trade dropped by about 40 per cent.

She said: “It had a dramatic impact on the high street. We have lost a shop and we were in danger of losing the high street. It looked very off-putting having those ugly red barriers. It looked like the whole street was out for the count, like we were a danger zone. It will take a while for it to come back to life again.”

Tom Calnan, who runs Calnan Brothers butchers, said: “It was such a shame that the hardware store went up and an iconic store like that has been lost from the high street but hopefully they can rebuild it.

“The problem was that the road being shut meant people kind of stayed away. There’s a business centre next to us, which has a large car park but people were not able to access that because of the closure, which meant they had to park in the public car park behind the Co-op where shoppers normally park.

“Speaking to other shopkeepers, the most frustrating thing was we weren’t really kept up-to-date. No one kept us informed why the road was shut for so long. There was definitely an impact on footfall but it wasn’t drastic.

“Luckily, the week after the disaster it was Easter so it was busy for us. If there was no bank holiday or Easter it might have been a different story. We’re pleased the street has
re-opened and it’s good to have the high street bustling again.”

Councillor Steve Harrod, who represents Watlington on Oxfordshire County Council, said: “This issue, as I understand it, was one of building safety. The building inspectors would not allow the road to be opened so it was something completely out of county’s hands.

“From a highways perspective, we kept thinking the street would be open in a couple of days but it stretched out and stretched out. I did advise individuals but it wasn’t publicised.”

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