Shaftesbury’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop has announced its closing down event. But the Chamber of Commerce hopes that posters suggesting the business will soon cease trading may not reveal the full picture. The closure news came on the day that a new, sustainable store announced its Shaftesbury opening.
The challenges faced by High Street retailers have been well documented. An increased reliance on internet shopping has noticeably impacted towns with a high percentage of chain stores. Bournemouth’s centre has been badly affected, but Shaftesbury’s Chamber of Commerce Chairman, David Perry, insists that Shaftesbury remains a vibrant market town and the reasons behind recent business closures are not always down to economics.
“When the other shops closed, people said it was ‘the death of the High Street’. Of course, it isn’t. All the news about ‘the death of the High Street’ is about the death of the city centres and out-of-town shopping sheds,” said David. “Unfortunately, we have had a couple of long leases end and the businesses have come to a natural end. None of them have been through business failure. The sign that has gone up on Edinburgh Woollen Mill is concerning because it is a big chunk of building in the middle of the town but we have reason to believe that it is not as bad as it might look.”
ThisIsAlfred asked Edinburgh Woollen Mill why they say they are closing. A press spokesman from the Carlisle-based chain’s HQ called us back to say that they never comment on store openings or closings. But he did add that they have opened five new outlets last week. The spokesman said that if the Edinburgh Woollen Mill is indeed closing, its owners may chose to replace the store with another of their High Street brands, which include Peacocks, Jaeger, Austin Reed, Vyella and Ponden Mill.
Meanwhile, Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce has learned that the current lease of Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s store ends in January. “If the lease doesn’t get renewed or renegotiated favourably then they have the option of closing, but we rather hope that they don’t,” David said.
David hopes that any new lease agreement will result in exterior decoration improvements. The poor appearance of the store has been a regular source of complaints from both visitors and locals. David says there is disagreement between the leaseholder and the EWM business, which is owned by a Dubai-based billionaire. There’s uncertainty over who should maintain the outside of the store and that’s why it’s not been decorated.
“There is that positive note. At the moment it is becoming a bit of an eyesore. If they get their renewal maybe they will crack on and make the place look prettier,” said David, adding that locals have been so concerned by the poor state of the shop, they have taken the matter into their own hands. “We have spoken to them on numerous occasions saying that it is letting down our lovely High Street. It has been known for Chamber members to shin up ladders under the cover of darkness and chop down the buddleia, which was sticking out of the side of the wall!”
Whether or not EWM closes, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for Shaftesbury shoppers. Next week, Lucy Barfoot will open the town’s first zero-waste store, offering plastic free alternatives and reusable products in Swan’s Yard. Coconut and Cotton will launch on Monday 3rd December, coinciding with Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce’s Late Night Shopping and Christmas light switch-on, which begins at 6pm.