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"How can we survive," asks Worcester city centre trader
DESERTED: A disgruntled independent Worcester trader says this picture, taken in the middle of a weekday afternoon, highlights their desperate plight
THE picture shows a deserted Worcester city centre street in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
Business strategists say there is plenty in the pipeline to boost trade in Worcester.
But one trader says he fears the city is becoming a “ghost town” and has called for more support for struggling businesses.
Richard Carter, owner of Trinity Pet and Gardens who took the picture, said Worcester Business Improvement District (BID) and Worcester City Council need to support traders and give shoppers more incentives to venture in.
On Saturday your Worcester News reported how Lakeland is moving from St Swithin’s Street to Webbs Garden Centre in Wychbold, near Droitwich, in the new year.
Mr Carter, aged 47, who has managed pet shops for the last 30 years, said: “It is like a ghost town. There was not a soul and not a single car when I took the picture.
“Everything seems to be against us. There are so many empty shops. It’s just getting worse and worse. If things don’t improve I shall be gone as well.
"Everything is going up – rent, rates, electricity bills, car parking. We could all do with a bit of extra help. Yet the council is still charging premium rates for a city centre that is not the city centre it was. It should be capping or reducing the rates.”
Mr Carter runs other shops in Stourport, Kidderminster and Stourbridge and says other councils have given generous incentives for shoppers and for businesses to thrive. For example, Stourport has free parking three days a week while in Kidderminster he had his annual rates of £1,500 cancelled.
In Worcester the business rates are £3,500 a year, more than three times what they are in Stourport and more than double those in Stourbridge. Despite this, his Stourport business is by far his most popular.
In Worcester said he had to pay £250 a year to be part of Worcester BID yet so far had not seen any benefits for his shop, selling pet products and fishing tackle. He said he once stopped a member of Worcester BID as a test to see if they could tell him where to find a pet shop and the person did not know his shop existed.
BID manager Adrian Field said: “In addition to projects such as RingGo paying for parking by phone and our imminent improvements to pedestrian signage around the city centre, we have invited all independent businesses in Worcester BID to join in our upcoming Uniquely Worcester campaign.
“Running in October it aims to highlight the great small businesses that we have in Worcester including Trinity Pets and Gardens.
"We have also invited all BID businesses including Mr Carter to take part in our customer service assessments and subsequent awards ceremony, our student offers leaflet which collates the incentives firms are offering to the new and existing students in the city, as well as the opportunity to promote themselves through the Great British Summer Event in July.
“We are also having great success reducing overheads on insurance, gas, electricity and telecoms. One independent business in New Street, for example, has just saved more than £1,200 per year on its gas and electricity bills through our BID scheme.”
On a positive note, clothing shop Joules is moving into the former Jessops branch on High Street and Sub Tone Photography has opened in Copenhagen Street. There will also be a Casablanca wine bar opening on the same street.
A city council spokesman said: “We are fully committed to supporting local businesses.
“The Cornmarket regeneration will give retailers in the area a major boost by increasing footfall. The council cut car parking prices across the board earlier this year, and over the last 18 months 30 businesses have received start-up or booster grants from us.
"A further 42 have signed up to the Council’s apprenticeship scheme, which we operate in partnership with Worcester Technical College.
“In addition some businesses have received loans with support from the city council, via our partner Impetus. We are currently funding works to improve the High Street in response to retailers’ feedback, which should have a positive impact in the run-up to Christmas.”