Time to try harder to save 'ghost street'
THE landlords of empty city centre shops need to work harder to fill them – and even consider new uses, Plymouth's city centre manager says.
Clint Jones said landlords should target chains not currently trading in Plymouth and even consider other uses such as bars, restaurants and "social enterprises" to fill vacant shops.
He was speaking as JJB Sports became the latest high-profile chain to pull the plug on a Plymouth city centre store.
Its New George Street branch will shut on Tuesday at the latest, and join a growing list of empty units in the lower end of the road, already including Woolworths, Officers Club, Game, Hawkins Bazaar, Derrys, TJ Hughes, and Nectar.
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"Agents and landlords need to be more proactive about who they are targeting to go into these shops," Mr Jones said.
"There is a long list of retailers we would like to go in there. We'd like some new retailers for Plymouth, and some independents. The time for landlords to be holding out for that extra right tenant has gone," he said. "We need to be 'let's fill them'."
And he added: "I would not be averse to a change of use. It need not be retail based, but leisure, or restaurants or social enterprises.
"We need to get people in there and work with landlords to get people in there."
Mr Jones stressed he was, however, regularly speaking to agents about bringing in retailers and said that the rest of the city had fewer empty shops than the national average.
Nationally retailers have been assailed by problems, including the double-dip recession, the impact of out-of-town shopping and internet selling.
But Mr Jones said that with just 11 per cent of Plymouth's city centre vacant it was performing better than the national average, which stands at 11.6 per cent.
And he stressed he had visited many other town and city centres and said: "We have one of the liveliest and most vibrant city centres."
Ray Robins, chairman of the Market Traders' Association and Cornwall Street Shopkeepers Association, said the city's West End "independent quarter" was still successful, despite the woes around lower New George Street.
He said that area had suffered because mid-sized national chains had been the worst affected by the economic slump.
But he wants the city centre to remain retail led and said: "City centres have got to change but we are retailers, that's what we do. Once you start looking to other uses it's the slippery slope."
And Mr Robins urged retailers to work harder, and said: "When times are good you can be a bad retailer and people come in and throw money in your till. But when it's hard times you have to know what you're doing, know your customers, or it doesn't matter if you're big or small, you're going under."
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