THIS time last year traders in Hailsham town centre were celebrating as the UK officially came out of recession.
The High Street started to show signs of recovery as a raft of new retailers took up vacant space and a long-awaited adult clothes shop, Wear Else opened its doors in the town.
But a year later, Wear Else joins the dozens of retail units which stand empty on the High Street.
Tough trading conditions and high business rates have driven away a number of independent traders - unable to compete with supermarkets.
Leading figures in Hailsham have urged shoppers to ‘use it or lose it’ after a spate of shop closures over the last few weeks.
Domestic appliance shop C H Seymour Ltd on Hailsham High Street, became the latest casualty of the difficult climate after closing last month.
The shop, trading in the town for more than 20 years, called in the liquidators FRP Advisory LLP on Friday, January 28.
Ian Vickers at FRP Advisory, said, “The directors have tried all possible avenues to locate a buyer for CH Seymour Limited. “Unfortunately, they found there is no other option but to place the company into liquidation.”
“Seymours was a real part of the community,” said Hailsham Town Councillor Bill Bentley. “Everybody has got a story about something they bought there. It is not just a store, it is an institution.They are a small store that stayed in market towns, they have always competed with the big boys and would match the prices of larger stores.”
A dark cloud also hangs over struggling bookshop chain Sussex Bookshops, which has a branch in the Quintins.The chain, which went into administration, is currently looking for a buyer after recovery specialists Zolfo Cooper were brought in on January 13.
Further down the High Street, the owner of the Sussex Toy Centre revealed the shop is also set to quit the town after nearly 26 years. The shop will close for good on Saturday but will continue trading from its branch in Heathfield. “I think Tesco has killed the town,” the owner said.
The same story is echoed by the manager of Apollo DVD shop on the High Street which will close on March 23, leaving six staff without jobs. She blamed the popularity of downloading films from the internet.
“People aren’t coming in as often because they are pirating films and downloading them,” she said. “People just go to Asda to see what new films are out and then download them off the internet for 25p,” she added.
In Vicarage Field, a number of units also stand empty, including Premier Travel Agency, which has now transferred its business to the Seaford branch.
Hailsham’s mayor, Cllr Robin Kempe, has called on Hailsham residents to support the traders. “I am extremely concerned a number of independent shops have closed down or left Hailsham in recent months,” he said. “The loss of shops can have a corrosive effect on confidence and could deter businesses from coming here in the future.
“More flexibility needs to be exercised to keep small shops in business and bring new business to the town. To encourage businesses to set up shop and stay, further concessions need to be made in terms of profit margins.
“I encourage commercial property agents to be mindful by continuing to keep rent and other costs down as much as possible for the time being.” he added.
The organiser of Hailsham’s Farmer Market, Janet Dann, also urged shoppers to keep it local.
“The market is now in its 13th year of operation and due to the recession we have experienced a fall in income in line with the majority of businesses,” she told the Gazette.
“This is clearly something we want to address and feel promoting the clear advantages of buying direct from the producers could have a positive effect, ie food which is fresh, competitively priced and traceable, whether the product is baked, raised, grown or handmade,” she added.
But Malcolm Adams, chairman of the Hailsham and District Chamber of Commerce said there was light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have had a spate of closures, but we have had a number opening last year as well, including Fish Around, the tropical fish supplier, opposite them an American nail bar, the Demelza House Charity Shop and Mobility A and B.
“I think there is cause for cautious optimism. Things are tough but it will only get better. I don’t think you should be writing the town off just yet. It is just a case of riding out the storm. ”