'Time for action': Business bosses' concern at Shropshire House of Fraser closures
County business leaders have spoken of their sadness and concern at the news that House of Fraser will shut its two Shropshire stores.
Richard Sheehan, chief executive of the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, fears further businesses could follow suit as they struggle with changing shopping habits and rising costs.
However Shropshire Council's economic growth chief said the authority was confident of a bright future for Shrewsbury, despite the loss of the historic High Street store.
It comes after House of Fraser announced plans to close its stores in Shrewsbury and Telford, as well as Wolverhampton's 131-year-old Beatties store and its large shop in Birmingham city centre.
They will be four of the 31 stores to close under a rescue deal, affecting 6,000 jobs across the UK. More than 200 of those staff are employed in Shropshire and more than 1,100 work at House of Fraser across the West Midlands.
New habits, new business rates?
Mr Sheehan believes the Government needs to take action to protect the future of firms, including carrying out a review into business rates, as retailers struggle to adapt to changing shopping habits.
He said: "We are in a world which is changing and in retail has changed considerably in the last five years, driven by changes in shopping behaviours.
"Those who have adapted have obviously been more successful. I think the large ones have found it more difficult compared with small groups or independent businesses.
"The high street has morphed into a destination and big stores need to offer more than the traditional shopping which has been offered for more than 100 years.
"The profile of footfall is also changing as the population grows. The more mature still frequent the high street, while the young people can use their mobile phones to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. The challenge all retailers face is to ensure sustainability.
"Larger businesses has also been hit with additional costs such as auto-enrolment, growing minimum wage and business rate changes. These are all costs which have eroded margins and impacted on sustainability.
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"We really need some attention from the Government. To lose two of flagship stores in our two main towns is not painting a great picture as we encourage inward investment.
"There has been talk for a long time about a review of business rates and how they are levied, but no real action has been taken. We need to put some actions alongside the words."
Loss of an icon
Peter Bettis, president of Shrewsbury Business Chamber said: "I'm very saddened about the news that we're going to lose this iconic store.
"People from all over Shropshire and Mid Wales come to Shrewsbury for a shopping experience and it's disappointing that we're set to lose a big name.
"I, and many people, will remember it when it was Della Porters.
"It's such a lovely building as well that deserves to be shown off. I'm sure there will be opportunities in the future for it.
"But mostly I'm disappointed for the people who work there and will lose their jobs."
Council staying positive
Nic Laurens, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for economic growth, said: “We were saddened to hear the news this morning.
"We will be working with the store to ensure that staff are aware of the help and support available to them at this uncertain time.
“We will also be working with our partners, including the Shropshire Business Board and Shrewsbury Business Improvement District (BID), to continue to grow the town.
“Shrewsbury has a lot to offer and is a place which visitors flock to, to experience its individuality and history, as well as its excellent shops and eateries.
“We have exciting plans for the future and we’re confident that, together, we can build on the town’s prosperity by investing in the amazing businesses we have and encouraging others to invest.”
Council leader keeping an open mind
Leader of Shropshire Council and mayor of Shrewsbury, Peter Nutting, said: "Of course it's unfortunate and we'd rather it stayed open but we will deal with it the best we can.
"What we will be investigating is whether we can get any of the franchises inside the store currently, into the shopping centres.
"And eventually we will have to look into the future use of the building.
"It is not owned by Shropshire Council but ideas have been put out there that it could be made into apartments or a boutique hotel. We're very open minded about it.
"Of course we will do what we can to help the company."
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