Star comment: Spirit of optimism for town
Based on footfall in Shrewsbury, the opening of a major new Primark store in the town centre has been a big shot in the arm.
A £12 million investment, it opened in the Darwin Centre two months ago.
Early days then, but early promise too. The signs are that it has brought a “significant increase” in footfall throughout the Charles Darwin and Pride Hill centres.
Shrewsbury is up against considerable competition, with the nearest major rival for shoppers’ affections being Telford, but also from places like Chester, which has the same mix of heritage, visitor interest, and commerce as Shrewsbury. And for those prepared to travel further afield - and a lot of shoppers are these days - Birmingham and even Liverpool.
There is also the doorstep competition to contend with from the county town’s out-of-town shopping areas.
The Primark effect is an encouraging sign that Shrewsbury is in fighting form and, if it gets the mix right, it can hold its own and more.
It has got some great assets and unique selling points to promote. The last few days have seen the unveiling of a vision for the future of the town centre, which would remove traffic and undoubtedly make for a much more pleasant environment for pedestrians. It will be interesting to see what Shrewsbury shopkeepers and businesses make of it. Taking away the traffic does raise other issues, so there is much to ponder. But the vision is there.
Things are not so happy at the Riverside where it is no secret that ambitious redevelopment plans have stumbled, and there is a suggestion even that the council may step in.
If we view an upsurge of visitor numbers as some sort of wave, it becomes even more desirable to surf on the crest of this wave and sustain it for the benefit of Shrewsbury, and getting the Riverside scheme sorted out would help do that. There is some urgency as it would be a pity if Shrewsbury were to have some trump cards available and then ruin their value by failing to play them at the optimum time.
While the town has many draws for shoppers, particularly with its range of independent shops, it is in everybody’s interests to keep the momentum going and give shoppers even more reasons to choose Shrewsbury over the competition.
The signs for Shrewsbury are looking positive and Primark’s advent will fuel a spirit of optimism, but in this race for customers, to stand still is to risk moving backwards.