A HUGE trading boost for the town centre has been received this week with the announcement that international fashion chain H&M is to open a new superstore in Hastings.
The two-storey shop in Priory Meadow Shopping Centre will open early next year, taking up the three empty units left vacant by clothes retailers Evans, Dorothy Perkins and Burton and the space above them.
It will provide much-needed relief to the town centre, which has witnessed a tumultuous time in the last two years with shops closing down and others filing for administration.
John Hough, manager of Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, said: “Securing H&M is a strong statement of confidence in Priory Meadow and Hastings and in what our unique town offers to shoppers and retailers alike.
“This great fashion store has been one of the most popular choices in the ‘wish list’ category in our recent surveys so it’s particularly gratifying to welcome H&M to the centre.
“Our latest new shop tReds is trading exceptionally well since opening at the end of June, and we are looking forward to further announcements as we build on our strengthening retail offer.
“In 2009 we had a sophisticated camera system installed which counts people in and out of the entrances very accurately. Up to week 31 (last Sunday), 2011 and 2012 saw an average weekly drop in footfall of around five per cent annually which represents a total reduction over that time of over 11,000 visitors.
“This year however things have looked more positive with an increase so far of three per cent. In fact June and July were exceptional with the Vulcan Display and Pirate Day as well as better weather contributing to higher numbers over the period; close to nine per cent up on last year with the weekly average up to just over 100,000 from 92,000.
“With the current level of retail interest in Hastings I firmly believe that we are at last turning the corner.”
He added that the council worked closely with Priory Meadow management to clinch a deal with H&M.
Cllr Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, said: “This is really excellent news for Hastings, and our residents and visitors. To get this level of commitment from H&M at a time when some high streets are struggling is extremely encouraging. Like many others, I look forward to the new store opening early next year.”
Rob Woods, town centre manager, said the number of people shopping in the town centre so far this year had been higher than 2011 and 2012, despite a slow start at the beginning of 2013.
He echoed Mr Hough’s comments that recent events, such as Pirate Day, had helped increase footfall.
Evans, Dorothy Perkins and Burton ceased trading in Priory Meadow in June.
The news came as a blow as all three branches of the national chains had been in Hastings since 1997. They left as their leases came to an end.
Since the end of 2011 several high street chain shops in Hastings have gone into adminstration and closed down.
In January, Blockbuster Video in Queens Road and five people working at Jessops in Priory Meadow lost their jobs when the camera retailer shut.
HMV also went into administration in January but the Priory Meadow store was saved from closure.
Clothing chain Next shut its Priory Meadow shop at the end of 2011. Past Times shut its doors at the start of January last year after the company, which specialised in retro-themed gifts, went bust. The Early Learning Centre’s Priory Meadow store also closed in February last year.
At the same time in 2012 it was feared clothing store Peacocks, in Queens Road, and Bonmarché, in Priory Meadow, would close after they went into administration. But both stores were eventually bought by new companies.
In March last year GAME and GameStation filed for administration. GAME’s Priory Meadow branch was saved after a new company bought the video games retailer. But GameStation’s shop in Queens Road closed down.
Work will start soon so H&M can open its 1,500 sqm store in spring 2014. The company has 233 stores in the UK already.