There is a sudden spate of comings and goings - so far mainly goings - among the independent shops on Marlborough High Street and the yards beyond it. These changes come as figures showed that shops across the country recorded a drop in business over Easter.
Even compared to the freezing conditions of Easter 2013, the footfall (the numbers actively shopping) in high streets across the country was down 3.5 per cent. Taking account of all retail outlets, overall footfall was down 1.9 per cent. Only an increase of 6.1 per cent for retail parks saved that overall figure from being a hefty negative.
But a day later, the Confederation of British Industry announced a much more positive view of prospects for the nation’s retail sector…you pays your money and you takes your choice.
It is generally agreed that high rents and rates are a disincentive for independent shops to keep trading. But there are other reasons as well for the changes taking place now amongst Marlborough’s retailers.
The regional country fashions chain Rowland’s has, as MNO reported, gone bust and the premises are being advertised to let at an undisclosed annual rent. On a smaller scale, after the Wessex Print Centre retreated to their Pewsey headquarters, their former premises is up for rent – again at an undisclosed annual rent.
At the west end of the High Street, the owner of No 42a, Lloran House, on the south side and next to the former Ivy House Hotel, wants to make changes and turn the upper storeys into flats. The fairly recently arrived Timeless Elegance, one of the two shops on the ground floor, will be moving to Bath in the near future.
On the north side of the High Street Made in Italy is closing down - after fifteen years. Maura Rossini, the Italian owner, told MNO that the main reason for closing her shop is ‘time’: “I have a family, I have a life, and most recently have the extra joy of becoming a grandmother. So I am leaving for that well known phrase ‘to spend more time with the family’.”
However she adds that she hopes this may not be a final ‘goodbye’: “I may be back if I can find some small space to rent from time to time and to continue the series of ‘Walks into the world of Italian style’.”
“I have truly loved building my business and making my new home in Marlborough…and I wish I could thank all the people who made me so welcome.”
Next door to her is Sienna Shoes, the fashion shoe shop that has been there for thirteen years. They are closing too and have a final sale underway.
Dion Johnson, the son of the owners, says their decision to close is partly due to a change in the way people buy shoes: “They used to buy them for £100 a pair and get them to last. Now they buy cheaper shoes and throw them out sooner.”
He added that “Footfall in Marlborough over the last two years has been terrible.” Sienna will close in two or three weeks.
In Hilliers Yard Unit D, beside the Indian Shop, is still empty and on the market with annual rent for its two floors and two parking spaces at £27,000.
In Hughenden Yard there is still one empty unit – Unit 11 at an annual rental of £15,000. This is being marketed by Kilpatrick & Co of Swindon who manage this Yard – and they are promising that there is “50 per cent rates relief available” on these premises.
And there are three other shops in these two yards which are on the market. Two of the present owners want to carry on trading, but if someone offers them their asking price…
It looks fairly certain there will be some other closures among Marlborough's independent retailers before this year is out.
On the more positive side, at the premises which used to be the Armadillo Café, 100 The High Street between Prezzo and ASK, the owners of The Marlborough (formerly The Sun) will be opening the Marlborough Delicatessen (photo at right) in about two months. Some people will remember when there was a deli in Lloran House - what goes around comes around - albeit on the opposite side of the High Street.