Hastings town centre loses three major stores

TOWN centre trade in Hastings has been rocked by the loss of three high street stores and a poor Christmas sales period.

Clothing chain Next, which employed around 20 staff, closed its Priory Meadow shop on December 29. The store employed around 20 staff.

Past Times shut its doors on Tuesday after the company became the latest victim of the recession.

The firm specialised in retro-themed gifts and had 100 branches across the UK.

The Early Learning Centre’s Priory Meadow store is also shutting on February 11, affecting five staff who may lose their jobs

There are also fears that clothing shops Burton and Dorothy Perkins in Hastings could shut as bosses from the Arcadia Group, which owns the chains, announced it would close up to 260 shops over the next three years after reporting losses.

The group, which also owns Top Shop and BHS, refused to say whether there would be any closures in Hastings soon.

John Hough, manager of Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, said a number of shops in the centre signed 15-year leases in 1997 when Priory Meadow opened and these were coming up for renewal.

He said: “We are particularly disappointed that Next is not staying because it was a very profitable store. We are also sad to see the Early Learning Centre go.

“A fair number of shops’ leases have come up for renewal. This has also fallen in the middle of one of the worst recessions in living memory.

“Next made a policy decision to pull out of the town centre after its lease expired. Rents are cheaper for retailers in out-of-town centres.

“We are not going to sit back and rest on our laurels because our managing agents are coninuously talking to prospective retailers while talking up Hastings. We do not want a shopping centre full of vacant units.

“But the fact that we are in the middle of a recession means people are thinking very hard before making any decision.”

He said national factors, such as competition from supermarket giants and internet shopping were impacting on trade, rather than how individual branches were doing.

Mr Hough said: “Past Times in Hastings had a fantastic Christmas and did a very good trade. It was the top performing store in the area, yet the company went into administration.”

He added Christmas trade at Priory Meadow was four per cent down on the previous year but stressed it was better than he predicted, as he expected the drop to be around eight per cent.

He said: “It was pretty good, considering footfall in the centre was seven per cent down in 2011 overall, compared to 2010.

“In the last week before Christmas Eve this year we had 180,000 people in Priory Meadow.”

There was some good news, however, as it was announced this week that Pizza Express is opening a new restaurant in Hastings in February.

HMV, which has a store in Priory Meadow, also said its Hastings branch was one of its better performers, trading above the average.

But Rob Woods, town centre manager, said Hastings continued to struggle to draw in shoppers.

He said: “What concerns me about this is the knock-on effect on independent traders in town centre. This is fairly typical of the situation nationwide.

“We need to get more footfall into town centres but it is a really tough thing to do. Even with all offers available in the run-up to Christmas there was still not the same level of footfall of shoppers in Hastings, compared to 2010.

“We are getting mixed messages from traders about Christmas trade, with some saying it was good and others saying it didn’t happen at all for them.”

Mr Woods said the continuing growth of out-of-town shopping centres and internet sales was partly to blame, amid the ongoing recession.

He added: “People seem to prefer to go to out-of-town shopping centres because there is usually free parking and many window shop before going online on the internet to buy the goods. The growth of internet sales has not helped at all.

“There was continued growth over the Christmas period.

“Town centre management are next meeting on March 5 and this is something we will have to discuss. We have to find a way of making our town centre more attractive to come to.

“But it seems to me that the supply of retail at the moment is far greater than demand so inevitably we will have these casualties.”