Charity shops in South Shields town centre are being hit by a “Marks & Spencer effect”.
The retail giant vacated the town’s King Street on March 29.
Now some local charity stores say that has resulted in a noticeable reduction in footfall in and around the town centre, threatening their continued existence.
The Age UK outlet has just closed its Fowler Street store after profits plummeted and now St Clare’s Hospice has admitted its nearby store may also need to consider closure.
David Briers, chief executive of Age UK South Tyneside, said the decision of M&S to move out of the town proved a particularly “big blow”.
He expressed hopes that a new premises could be found as part of the council’s £100m ‘365’ masterplan to regenerate the town centre, but admitted “real disappointment” after the charity’s income-generating shop had to close its doors.
That decision had become increasingly inevitable in recent months.
The outlet was taking around £2,000 a week just 18 months ago, but that figure had fallen to between £700 to £800 this year.
Mr Briers added: “Closure was not a decision we took lightly, but the closure of Marks and Spencer was a particularly big blow.
“The footfall in the town centre is just not very good now and our income in the last 18 months has fallen by more than half.
“This coincided with an agreed policy nationally to close under-performing shops and the lease being up for renewal on the Fowler Street premises.
“There was also a double blow with South Tyneside Council phasing out discretionary rate relief. Profits were falling but rents were remaining the same.“
“I’m really disappointed we don’t have a shop in South Tyneside now that generates income for the charity and provides a good service and good quality toys and clothes for families on lower incomes.
“But we remain committed that if a suitable site becomes available, perhaps as part of 365, we will look at the situation again.”
David Hall, chief executive for St Clare’s Hospice, admitted the long term future of its Fowler Street store was also uncertain, again citing the M&S effect.
He said: “We have noticed a drop off in trade in recent times. Marks and Spencer and other big high street names obviously drew people into town.
“We’ll be considering the future of the premises when a release clause on the lease can be activated in a couple of years time.”
Lynn Hansom, of the Salvation Army shop in Fowler Street, added: “M&S was obviously a big loss, a lot of the older generation went there because of the quality of goods and we’ve felt the impact. Thankfully, we still have loyal customers.”
Marks & Spencer re-located staff at its King Street store to its Silverlink outlet in North Tyneside.
The closure angered loyal customers in South Tyneside, with thousands signing a petition urging the company to consider returning to new premises in the town at the earliest opportunity.
Council officials stressed its commitment to supporting borough retailers.
A council spokesman said: “We know that the economic climate is making things tough for retailers.
“This is by no means a problem confined to King Street, with high streets across the country facing tremendous pressure and competition from out of town retail outlets and internet shopping.
“We are doing everything we can to support South Shields Town Centre and only this week revealed the first steps in our very exciting masterplan for the area.
“Working with our development partner, Muse, the 365 vision will help us to create a vibrant town centre, offering a high quality shopping and leisure experience and helping to draw in more shoppers.
“We are not complacent and hope our investment in the town centre will act as a catalyst for further economic growth in the future.”
Meanwhile, a charity shop boss has expressed concern for the long-term future of Fowler Street in South Shields.
A section of the street is to be demolished as part of the town’s long-term ‘365’ regeneration strategy.
But in the meantime the top half of the street, on the road towards the town hall, looks “desperate”.
That’s the view of Helen Hill, manager and director of the Feline Friends charity shop in nearby Winchester Street.
She said: “Apart from the pizza shop there’s no reason to go up that part of the street and there’s uncertainty about plans for the block across the road which is due to be flattened as part of the 365 plan.
“We manage to get by because of our regular customers but we could do with the street being more vibrant.”
A source for the Scope charity shop, in Fowler Street, said the charity would “monitor” the impact the closure of the nearby Age UK shop has on its own trade, adding: “Obviously there is a concern its closure could result in a knock-on effect for other traders.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 05 June 2014