THE STORIES BEHIND TOWN’S EMPTY STORES
WALK around Llanelli’s town centre and you will notice that the shops and retail outlets found there are usually in one of three categories.
The first is the most sadly noticeable – the abandoned premises where businesses have shut up shop, unable to thrive for a variety of reasons, with the buildings now looking for the most part like a dilapidated shell of their former selves.
Then there are the businesses who have been there and done that. They set up shop months, years, even decades ago, and are still there welcoming customers nearly every day. It is not just limited to the big-name brands and chains either – some smaller businesses have managed to keep the pace and keep their doors open.
The third examples are the newly-opened firms, all with fresh business plans – but it’s never quite easy to predict how their fortunes will fare.
Much has been made of the impact of the opening of Parc Trostre Retail Park on the outskirts of town, with a number of notable businesses making the move away from the town centre as a result.
Marks & Spencer was one business which did just that, and the effect of its departure was called by some as the death knell for the town centre.
But Carmarthenshire Council has been working on rectifying that, with their Opportunity Street initiative seeing £4.5 million spent on acquiring buildings and modernising them ready to attract new businesses.
There is a common misconception that the council owns all of the vacant premises in the town, which it says is not the case.
It also stressed that it was not responsible for setting rates on the units, an argument that is often used as a reason for businesses struggling to survive in modern times.
We took pictures of every empty shop in Llanelli town centre, and took a look at what those units used to be.
Two premises at the still shiny new development on the east side of town have yet to be filled. They surround the Hungry Horse pub, which is a popular venue for locals. With the likes of Nandos, Odeon, Joe’s Ice Cream and Red 10 in such close proximity, this seems a great location to open up.
ST ELLI SHOPPING CENTRE
Llanelli town centre’s shopping centre first opened in November 1997, and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. But even the landscape of shop fronts has changed in here over the years - it currently has three empty units.
A former orthodontics is now inaccessible from the front due to an overgrown frontage. Signs from the former business still remain.
It was around 100 years ago that Llanelli’s YMCA was in its heyday. The building would later become home to several smaller businesses, most of which still have remnants today.
A fancy dress shop, Computer X Change, The Candy Shop (a confectionary, tobacconist and newsagent), Sebon Cosmetics, The Cat’s Whiskers hair salon, a senior citizens’ day centre and even a vertical tanning room sounds like a totally random list of businesses, but those all share the same past of being housed in the former YMCA, with the initials still visible on the building’s front today.
Chillies Diner is now empty on Cowell Street, but businesses have struggled to make a success of the unit. A bar and grill called Rendezvous was there at one point, and a Smith & Jones Pub called The Bidding was there before that. The building it is in was once the Pugh Brothers department store.
Datafone Ltd is empty across the road - that used to be home to Gaynor’s, and before that a fancy dress shop.
Marzano’s Caffe Bar is an example of how a previously empty unit can have life breathed back into it.
The letter A hanging from the front face of Evan-Jones opticians is perfect imagery for a building once home to a thriving business and now looking worse for wear.
Even the market has empty units. The unit vacated by AJ Meats has yet to be filled.
The market is also where The Sausage Hut was forced to close after only a few months’ trade.
STEPNEY STREET (WEST SIDE)
On the whole, this area has managed to keep occupiers in its units, one of which was modernised under Carmarthenshire County Council’s Opportunity Street scheme.
There are still a few empty units though, including some within the Stepney Arcade, with one frozen in time with displays of Christmas presents.
VAUGHAN STREET AND BRIDGE STREET
While Vaughan Street does retain the likes of Boots and Home Bargains, it was dealt a blow with the loss of budget chain Bargain Buys just a few months ago. But the street which is now home to Llanelli’s outdoor market one day each week was dealt a bad blow when Marks and Spencer shut up shop to move to Trostre.
STEPNEY STREET (EAST SIDE)
KCB Tee-Shirts and Gifts was another one which left recently, while Vision Express departed for Trostre.
Further east from Stepney Street, Park Street has its own retail spaces which sadly aren’t utilised.
The centre-piece for the unused buildings here is the dilapidated Ty Melyn, once Circles Bar, but Siop y Werin, the former music and records store, is also in a bad state.
One now-vacant premises at 16 Park Street used to be Mr Chicken Express, offering “lip licking flavour” back in the day.
SO WHAT DO THE BUSINESSES STILL HERE THINK?
A business with huge longevity in the town is Jenkins Bakery, which has multiple outlets within and surrounding the town centre and has grown to places across South Wales.
Russell Jenkins, operations director at Jenkins Bakery said: “The Jenkins Bakery is uniquely placed as a long-established family business which has been operating in Llanelli since 1921.
“With 97 years of experience behind us, we are a highly-respected, wellestablished and awardwinning family business which prides itself on the values of traditional recipes and great craftsmanship.
“Certainly, Llanelli faces big challenges, but we see the key factors for success in having a long-established family brand, a quality reputation, great customer service, great staff and knowing your customers and their needs
“What traders need now is action – at least some dedicated form of ‘time limited’ (eg three hours for free) car parking in Llanelli town centre.
“There also needs to be a more prudent allocation of public money in terms of investment in Llanelli town centre.
Alan Seward of Seward’s grocer’s in Llanelli market offered the perspective of market traders on what it takes to be successful in the town.
“You need to know your customers, and look after your customers, and then your customers will look after you,” he said.
“Shopping habits have changed. The younger generation don’t tend to come into the market, that’s the trouble, as it’s all online. But we’ve got a niche market – we know the different customers, and what they prefer. That’s the thing which comes with knowing your customer.”
David Darkin is the President of the Llanelli Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
“A vibrant town centre is important as the heart of a community which is why having occupied buildings in the town centre is so important,” he said.
“Empty shops in the high street can be found up and down the UK and abroad, a symptom of the rise of e-commerce. It’s important therefore that we seek to diversify the uses of town centre premises in order to keep them as a thriving centre to the community.
“I’m looking forward to the adoption of the new Local Development Order (LDO) later this year which should allow this diversification to happen.”
Ty Melyn on Park Street, once home to Circles bar.
The ex-Pugh Brothers store.
The old YMCA building in Llanelli.