£10m initiative lifts hope for High Street shoppers
2018 was a tough year for the high street. A squeeze on wages has left shoppers with less disposable income to splash out in their favourite shops. Owners themselves are having to fork out ever-larger chunks of their profits on rents and business rates. Meanwhile, online marketplace traders can operate without these burdens, a major financial advantage. In announcing a £10 million funding package to rejuvenate local shopping areas, regional mayor Tim Bowles spoke of the need to “embrace the future of our high streets in the digital age”. The focus in Bath of the West of England Combined Authority’s Love Our High Street initiative will be on increasing footfall, attracting new uses and improving local facilities. The year drew to a close with the future of Jolly’s unresolved. The House of Fraser store is a pulling point to Milsom Street in the north of the city centre and its owner Mike Ashley is playing hardball with landlords across the country. Some of this year’s closures have been keenly felt, upsetting customers and seeing owners vent about the difficult trading conditions, but many of the shop spaces have been filled with new businesses. These are some of the shops that said goodbye to Bath this year _ and the ones who took over. Among them was Shannon (now Sumptuous Designerwear): Loyal customers were in tears when owner Sue Shannon told them she was closing her Walcot Street shop. She told us in April: “We’ve been besieged by people telling us not to go. “It’s been a difficult decision. It’s not the usual negative story of a shop closing. I’m retiring from a very successful business. “I just can’t keep going at the level I do. It’s not possible to slow down here with six day, 60/70 hour weeks.” However, there was good news as a store selling designer dresses and premium brand clothing opened in its place. East, the clothes shop, in Milsom Street, shut after it was announced that the chain had gone into administration. A huge sale followed. All clothes, accessories and jewellery from last year’s season were sold at half the original price, while there was a 20 per cent reduction on new stock. Rupert and Buckley’s homecoming lasted only seven months as the high-end fashion store closed its store in New Bond Street store in September. Its chief executive Alex Newman said shops like his are having a “terrible time” amid the “ongoing turmoil within the UK retail sector”. However, the New Bond Street store has certainly been put to good use in the three months since. The charity Mentoring Plus was able to open a pop-up store over the autumn half-term. It allowed its youth reps to sell clothes, books, toys, music and bric brac, gain work experience and raise valuable funds.