Tough times taking toll on town centre

Vacant shop in Terminus Road Eastbourne

Vacant shop in Terminus Road Eastbourne

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DOZENS of shop units are currently sitting empty across Eastbourne – including many in prime town centre locations.

New figures show there are currently 64 empty shops in Eastbourne - 11.9 per cent of the overall stock.

That rate is two per cent below the national average but includes a host of stores in the heart of the town’s shopping area, along the lower part of Terminus Road and the Arndale Centre.

And although it undercuts the UK-wide picture, that fits with the wider regional one which sees the south perform better than other areas.

A short walk from Eastbourne Station, along Terminus Road, through the Arndale Centre, back along the other side of Terminus Road until the roundabout near the library reveals 18 unused units and two shops which are being used by temporary festive businesses which will close after Christmas.

And that includes a host of large shops in key positions within the main precinct – stores like the former Mothercare outlet, nearby Madhouse store and the unit Menkind recently moved from which sit alongside each other near the main entrance.

Coupled with that is the soon-to-be vacated Game shop (which is being moved to Terminus Road) and the now closed milkshake stand outside HMV and Sport Soccer.

Locally there are concerns the number of defunct shops could cause visiting shoppers to give Eastbourne a wide berth and that the more stores which close without being replaced, the harder it will be for those which remain to turn a profit.

And the fact four such prominent stores in close proximity will soon all sit empty could damage the Arndale Centre’s reputation as people are greeted with a row of empty shops seconds after entering the centre.

However, according to the Arndale’s management the mall is well placed to weather any further economic storm.

In fact, manager Bill Plumridge said far from being all doom and gloom, things were starting to look up for the Arndale Centre.

He said, “We are about to start the formation of a major new retail unit in the space previously occupied by Mothercare and Madhouse. The works will take a few months to complete and we will be able to confirm the occupier early next year.

“Games Stores Group has decided to combine the operations of the Game store and Gamestation just outside the centre. The latter is being re-branded to Game and their existing store is generating significant interest from retailers.

“Another positive step has seen the opening this week of a brand new concept store for Carphone Warehouse in the unit previously occupied by the Early Learning Centre.”

Added to that, of course, are the much trumpeted plans to totally revamp the town centre shopping area with a mooted £65million makeover of the Arndale Centre estimated to add a further 26 retail units.

In fact, an exhibition showcasing the proposals gets underway today in one of the currently unused units – the former Sony store near to Sainsburys – with locals encouraged to pop along between 9am and 4.30pm today (Friday) or tomorrow to have their say.

Outside the Arndale Centre, Terminus Road also seems to be falling foul of the current slump.

In the stretch between the station and Debenhams there are no fewer than 10 empty shops, including those which previously housed Saks hair salon, the BBC Sussex store, Lighthouse and Threshers.

In fact, the Herald reported only last month how locals were becoming more and more disgruntled at the state of the row directly opposite the station – which has seen three fires in the last six months.

One business still open in that area, the Barnardos charity outlet, said the appearance together with the closed stores was making life difficult.

Its manager Sue Howe said, “It is an eyesore along here and it is not nice being in the middle. People arrive on the train and this is what they see.”

And it was a sentiment echoed by neighbouring shopkeepers, including Jo Twilley from the butchers who said, “People don’t come up here as much because they think everything is closed.”

One man remaining upbeat is the head of the town’s chamber of commerce, Ray Mason.

He said, “Our members are working very hard with the council to attract new traders to the town.

“We sell the idea of Eastbourne in 2011 – not the individual units.

“This is why there is a lot of confidence that the redevelopment of the Arndale Centre will be a success. It will create the type of big floor space units that a lot of the bigger companies look for.

“It is all about selling Eastbourne as a concept and it is proving successful.

“The Grand Hall building parade is now 100 per cent occupied for the first time in its history and set to be officially opened today (Friday), proving demand for quality merchandise and good service never goes away.

“And the council’s plan for street trading will ensure a much better flow of shoppers to areas we don’t normally include in our shopping trips.

“Nobody wants to see unsightly shop fronts spoiling the town and more needs to be done to make sure owners of empty units make them more visually attractive, and it is an issue the Chamber is discussing with the relevant estate agents and council officers.

“Eastbourne is not doing badly. It is helping itself and has been proactive.”

Among a raft of ideas on how to brighten up empty units mirrors a scheme which proved successful back in 2009, with talks underway to try and decorate empty shop windows with local art and make more short-term leases available.

What do you think the town needs to do to attract more shops? Do we need more units when there are so many already empty? Write to us at eastbourne.herald@trbeckett.co.uk.