- In the first six months of 2016 more than 2,500 high street shops closed
- While many sit dormant, barbers, estate agents and vaping shops are appearing
- Nowhere typifies this shift more than the town of Loughton, Essex
- The Mail visited the town to see how much it has changed in recent years
Harry Wallop For The Daily Mail
Britain used to be a nation of shopkeepers. But for how much longer? In the first six months of this year alone, 2,656 shops closed on our High Streets, a rate of 15 stores a day, according to recent figures.
Many remain empty, but just as many are being taken over by barbers, hairdressers, beauty salons, estate agents, coffee shops, vaping stores and nail bars — outlets that will mostly sell you a service, not a product.
Last month’s Black Friday spending spree merely reinforced the trend, with a staggering £1.23 billion worth of goods bought online that day. By contrast, High Streets and shopping centres were quiet.
Bababoom is one of the rarer success stories on the high street in Loughton and has actually moved from a smaller unit to a larger one.
To find out how this is changing the character of many towns, the Mail visited Loughton in Essex. With a large cricket field, a village green and handsome Tudorbethan architecture, Loughton still has an almost rural feel, despite being within the M25.
It also has a very long shopping street — the High Road — that was once famous for its independent retailers, with several fashion stores and six butcher’s. Now it has just one butcher’s, but 14 hair and beauty salons.
According to research compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC), Loughton is one of a number of towns where close to a quarter of the traditional, independent stores have shut up shop in the first half of 2016 alone.
We have tracked down every traditional shop on the High Road that has closed or been replaced by one of the new breed of businesses in the past few years — and spoke to many owners to find out why they called it a day.
In geographical order, from the bottom of the High Road:
155a High Road
Karen Howard, 52, took over the boutique in 1991, but three years ago she relocated due to landlord problems and Liberty Flights has taken its place
Was: La Ruche, a womenswear boutique, since 1974. Closed January 2014.
Now: Liberty Flights vaping shop.
Karen Howard, 52, took over the boutique in 1991. It catered successfully for women over 35 ‘who wanted a more personalised customer service than they could find in a department store’.
What went wrong? ‘In one word: landlords,’ she says.
La Ruche was in a parade of shops under an office block, which changed ownership before the 2008 financial crash. The new owners put up the rents, and Karen paid about £35,000 in rent in her final year. ‘During the past three years, I was standing there to pay the landlords,’ she says.
Three years ago she relocated six miles down the road to Epping, where business rates (the tax on business properties) are £600 a month — a third of those in Loughton.
Like many, Karen is baffled at the success of vaping shops. ‘How many vaping refills do you need to sell to pay the rent?’ she asks. Vaping shops are bucking the trend for online sales as the millions of smokers switching to e-cigarettes like to try various flavours before they buy.
120 High Road
The owner of this shop blames lack of parking, high rents and competition from internet sales for the closure of her store
Was: Deejay shoes and accessories, since 1991.
Now: Closing at the end of 2016.
‘Loughton used to be such a busy, buzzy, affluent place,’ says Deejay’s owner Lorraine Applegate, 62. ‘But no more. We had a good 25 years in Loughton, but sad to say, I’ll be glad to get out.’
She opened another branch in Epping five years ago, and will now trade just from there.
Lorraine blames lack of parking, high rents (she pays £48,000 a year in rent and £20,000 in rates), and competition from internet sales for the closure of her store.
‘But the opening of the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford had a huge effect. Year-on-year since it opened in 2011, Loughton got quieter and quieter,’ she says.
‘It’s OK in the summer. But when it gets cold and dark in the afternoons, people head towards the shopping centre to do their Christmas shopping.’
165a High Road
Lawlors, which has the small site next door, hopes to move into this roomier premises by the New Year
Was: Multiyork Sofas.
Now: Vacant, but due to become Lawlors estate agents.
Lawlors, which has the small site next door, hopes to move into this roomier premises by the New Year. The council wanted a retailer to take over, but couldn’t find one. Multiyork decided it does not need a store in Loughton as well as one in nearby Epping.
173 High Road
In a good year, Chi Chi had a turnover of £250,000 to £300,000 but by the end the owner said: ‘I was lucky if it was £70,000 to £80,000’
Was: Chi Chi Boutique, womenswear, opened 2001. Went into liquidation 2015.
In a good year, Chi Chi had a turnover of £250,000 to £300,000. By the end, ‘I was lucky if it was £70,000 to £80,000,’ says Jo Mason, 42.
A local woman who worked for a City bank, she took over the clothes shop, then named Evergreen, in 2001 and re-branded it as Chi Chi Boutique in 2011.
‘It was a real passion,’ Jo says. ‘It’s a lovely business to have, when it’s going well. It didn’t even feel like a job. But when it’s not going well, it’s horrendous.’ Her overheads were £50,000 a year.
‘When I first opened, people spent a lot on clothing. They now go to Primark, and it’s all about throw-away fashion,’ she says. ‘Shops are surplus to requirements — unless it’s to get your nails done or have a shave. I am gutted how the High Road has changed.’
The company collapsed at the end of last year. ‘I think I felt relieved in the end,’ Jo says. She is now studying to become a mortgage professional.
138 High Road
In 2008, Alan Unwin took over an art supplies shop that had been trading for 78 years. Seven years later it collapsed and it is now a barbers
Was: The Art Shop, opened in 1930. Closed in January 2015.
Now: Ali Barbers.
In 2008, Alan Unwin took over an art supplies shop that had been trading for 78 years. He ran it for seven more before it collapsed. The premises has been taken over by a chain of barbers.
For Alan, the killer blow was Westfield Stratford opening — less than half an hour on the London Tube, or in the car. ‘Where would you rather shop,’ he asks, ‘at Westfield, where you’ve got 300 shops under one roof, or Loughton, where there are 22 places to get your hair cut? People say they’ve no money to spend on the High Street, but they’ve got money to get their hair cut or buy a coffee.’
A 56-year-old father of two, Alan has one bit of advice: ‘Don’t buy a shop in the High Street. Since losing the business, I’ve also lost my house, my partner, my kids, the lot. All my troubles boiled down to financial difficulties in the business.’
Alan is now a lorry driver.
193 High Road
The tiny shop, in a timbered building, was once the second- oldest retailer in Loughton but after 90 years of being a florist it is now another vaping shop
Was: Alexandra Lyons florist. Opened 1902. Declared insolvent July 2012.
Now: Tank Puffin vaping shop.
The tiny shop, in a timbered building, was once the second- oldest retailer in Loughton. It had been a florist for 90 years, when Alexandra, a local master florist, took over in 1993.
The nail in the coffin was when the council introduced double yellow lines. ‘I was a real destination for shoppers,’ says Alexandra, 45. ‘But people will only walk so far. The council forgets that drivers become pedestrians once they’re in town.’
In its heyday, the florist enjoyed an annual turnover of £250,000. By the end, it was £87,000 a year.
‘Just before I closed, people said, “What a shame, I used to love coming in here”, but they’d only come in once a year for Mother’s Day.’
Alexandra still owns the freehold, and now makes her living managing properties. However, she says: ‘I live in Loughton, but I shop in Chingford, where you can park.’
148 High Road
Jessica Wright, who made her name on ITV reality show The Only Way Is Essex, opened a lingerie shop but has since moved the business online
Was: With Love Jessica, a lingerie shop. Opened 2011. Closed 2014.
Now: Sharpe’s barbers.
Jessica Wright, who made her name on ITV reality show The Only Way Is Essex, which is filmed in the area, opened a lingerie shop here, taking over from a menswear seller. Her outlet closed in October 2014, but she still runs an online store.
At the time a spokesman said: ‘It is simply that Jess’s online business has rocketed and it makes much more sense to progress this further rather than the store.’
156 High Road
Some of the most expensive jackets he sells cost £1,200, but the owner says Loughton had enough wealthy customers to keep him in business, but everyone buys on price now
Was: Genel, a leather and fur boutique. Opened 2007.
Now: Still Genel, but due to close in weeks.
Owner Gerry Genel used to run a shop in the West End of London but has seen his Essex rent soar to £26,500 a year, and his rates £16,200 — costs which have risen substantially in recent years.
Some of the most expensive jackets he sells cost £1,200, but Gerry says that, when he opened, Loughton had enough wealthy customers to keep him in business. ‘But they don’t want quality any more, they want cheap and nasty,’ he says. ‘Everybody buys on price.’
Undeterred, Gerry is now looking for cheaper premises elsewhere.
‘It’s a shame we are pushed out, but we have to move on in life.’
5 Forest Road
Steve Allen, 63, took over this shop just off the High Road in 1975 but believes he lost around £40,000 in his last five years of trading
Was: S&F Electrics, hardware and electrical repairs, opened in 1953. Shut in March.
Now: Loughton Beauty Clinic.
Steve Allen, 63, took over this shop just off the High Road in 1975. In the Eighties and early Nineties, he was mending a dozen electric kettles a week, and selling countless specialist light-bulbs, nuts and bolts, and vacuum cleaner bags.
‘This was before internet retailers started to sell these things,’ he says. ‘So few people get things repaired any more because it’s usually cheaper to buy a new item.’
Steve made a good living for many years from local, older customers who referred to Loughton as ‘the village’, but in recent years it has became more of a dormitory town, home to London commuters.
‘The people who moved into the area didn’t shop here during the week,’ Steve says.
Failing to break even towards the end, Steve reckons that he lost about £40,000 over his final five years in business.
‘I’m not surprised the way it’s gone,’ he adds. ‘But what I don’t understand is how so many of these nail bars and beauty salons can survive. There’s about five within 100 yards of each other.’
199 High Road
This two-generation family-run car showroom on a prominent corner has been replaced by a branch of the big estate agency
Was: Browns Honda showroom, closed 2013.
Now: Foxtons estate agency.
This two-generation family-run car showroom on a prominent corner has been replaced by a branch of the big estate agency.
190-194 High Road
Plans submitted to the local council show that this premises is part of a small parade of shops below an office block that is going to be turned into residential flats
Was: Hype Menswear. Closed earlier this year.
Plans submitted to the local council show that this premises is part of a small parade of shops below an office block that is going to be turned into residential flats, with the three former retailers being knocked together in order to make a larger restaurant.
Was: I’m So Fly, womenswear. Closed earlier this year.
The boutique that specialised in youth fashion now operates solely out of Bishop’s Stortford and — inevitably for a brand targeting younger shoppers — also online.
The nationwide chain closed its final UK outlets in December 2013, after going into administration
Was: Blockbuster Video. Closed in 2013.
The nationwide chain closed its final UK outlets in December 2013, after going into administration. The rise of online film streaming offered by the likes of Netflix made the Blockbuster franchise obsolete.
213-215 High Road
This outlet of a family-run children’s clothing chain joined the legions of shops closing their doors
Was: M&Co Kids, closed in July.
Now: Building being demolished.
This outlet of a family-run children’s clothing chain joined the legions of shops closing their doors. Plans have been submitted to turn the large site into two separate retail units and seven one-bed flats.
217 High Road
Since this family-run toy shop closed its doors, it has been replaced by yet another barbers
Was: With Love And Hope toy shop, opened 2010. Closed 2013.
Now: Efes Barbers.
Since this family-run toy shop closed its doors, it has been replaced by yet another barbers.
219 High Road
The nationwide hair salon chain is another recent casualty, despite the number of hair shops popping up
Was: Toni & Guy hair salon. Closed earlier this year.
The nationwide hair salon chain is another recent casualty.
241 High Road
The fast-food chain closed this branch earlier this year
Was: KFC restaurant. Closed 2016.
The fast-food chain closed this branch earlier this year.
251 High Road
Another TOWIE star, Lydia Bright, and her sister, Georgia, started up in 2011. It closed a few weeks ago, and is now online, but has already been replaced
Was: Bella Sorella womenswear. Opened 2011. Closed 2016.
This was another fashion outlet opened by a character from The Only Way Is Essex TV programme. Lydia Bright and her sister, Georgia, started up in 2011. It closed a few weeks ago, and is now online.
244b High Road
This independent clothing store lasted almost a decade. A beauty salon has sprung up its place
Was: Rock Womenswear. Opened 2006. Closed 2015.
Now: Anee’s Beauty.
This independent clothing store lasted almost a decade. A beauty salon has sprung up its place.
252 High Road
The site was previously a menswear outlet, but was taken over by the confectionery franchise in 2012. It was replaced by a mobile phone accessory retailer
Was: Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe. Closed 2016.
Now: Mobile Store
The site was previously a menswear outlet, but was taken over by the confectionery franchise in 2012. It was replaced by a mobile phone accessory retailer.
4 Church Hill
When John Grabowski took over the oldest retail business in Loughton, in 1990, just behind the High Road, there were six other butcher’s in the town. Now there are none
Was: Bosworths family butchers.
Now: Daniel Robinson Funeral Parlour. Changed hands in 2011.
When John Grabowski took over the oldest retail business in Loughton, in 1990, just behind the High Road, there were six butcher’s in the town. His was the biggest, employing 15 people and with a turnover of £20,000 a week — more than £1 million a year.
When he closed in 2011, there were no butcher’s left in town. ‘It’s the convenience of supermarkets,’ he says. When he opened, there was a Safeway (now a Morrisons). Now there is also a large Sainsbury’s, in addition to two Sainsbury’s Locals within a short drive.
‘Younger women today,’ he says, ‘are in and out of the Pilates studio, the coffee shops, they haven’t got time to go to each individual shop. Plus, they have the convenience of parking at these supermarkets.’
John retired in 2011 but got so bored he opened a tiny butcher’s shop three doors along last year.
‘It has a turnover of £2,000 a week — a tenth of what I used to do,’ he admits. ‘It’s more a labour of love than a full-fledged business. Christmas used to be just a big bonus, now it’s what you need to make up the shortfall.’
John says he makes far more money as the landlord of the funeral parlour — a type of outlet which, for obvious reasons, is a fixture of British towns — and an apt symbol for our dying High Streets.
Published at Sat, 10 Dec 2016 10:21:58 +0000