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'No crisis' in Barnstaple town centre as another shop goes under

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

  • Barnstaple's Blockbuster will not be closed down according to administrators

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BARNSTAPLE High Street is not facing a crisis, says town centre manager Craig Bulley, despite yet another business which has a branch in the town being forced to call in administrators.

Blockbuster was forced to call in administrators Deloitte last week to take charge of its 528 stores across the country, including the one on North Walk in Barnstaple.

There was some good news for staff at the Barnstaple branch this week, when it was revealed the branch was not among 160 branches which will be closed down.

Although the company also said more closures could come in the next few weeks and months.

And the news that Blockbuster has gone to the wall came just days after HMV called in administrators, putting more than 4,000 jobs at risk.

A temporary HMV store in Green Lanes Shopping Centre in Barnstaple closed earlier this month.

And photographic retailer Jessops closed all of its 187 stores, including one in Barnstaple, earlier this month after major financial problems.

But Mr Bulley says there is still cause to be upbeat about the town centre's future.

"Is it in crisis?" he said. "No.

"Is it facing incredibly challenging times? Yes.

"Our High Street faces the same challenges as any and this is the time of year when belts tighten.

"It's true we have lost a few stores but we've also got Saltrock going into a High Street store imminently and Tesco Extra will come in and take up two units, both of which will bring new life to that end of the street."

And Mr Bulley said it was important for organisations like Town Centre Management and the Business Improvement District not to give up on the High Street.

"We've got to keep working with traders to keep marketing and promoting the town," he said.

"It's about enhancing what we've got."

He also said he believed several large companies were interested in bringing their business to Barnstaple.

"I know there are large businesses interested," he said, "but there's just not the right fit.

"A lot of our empty stores are relatively smallish units and for these companies it's about finding the right fit."

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  • ROOMATTHETOP  |  January 25 2013, 12:45AM

    You have a good point, DB361. One of the problems in Ilfracombe is the expensive rents. The parking situation is much better than it used to be, but the end of the High Street where the old Jobcentre used to be is really tatty.

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  • DB361  |  January 24 2013, 2:53PM

    ROOMATTHETOP - the reason why these big chains have become so big is that they have provided what people want at reasonable prices. Whilst Ilfracombe does have an incredible number of independant retailers, there's a reason why I never shop in the High Street. Can I walk into town and buy a CD? No. A pair of jeans? Nope... Christmas cards? Not anything even close to being half decent. This leaves me no choice but to either go into Barnstaple or use the internet. And given, as the report states, that the choice in Barnstaple is becoming worse by the day, it leaves me with no choice but to shop online, however much I despise it. Also remember that these chain stores are needed to give competition. The traders in Ilfracombe can get away with selling rubbish because there is no competitor in the town selling better quality goods. The second that a chain store opens in town or Tesco's expands, the High Street is in big trouble - and quite frankly it deserves to be.

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  • ROOMATTHETOP  |  January 24 2013, 11:56AM

    The High Street is changing, they tell us. Well so be it, and good riddance to the failed HMV, Jessops, Game, JJB Sports, Peacocks, Comet and Blockbusters. Let's hope that more big chains go to the wall, and, frankly, the sooner the better. It's poetic justice! Those remaining hang on by their fingernails as internet savvy shoppers desert characterless shopping malls but Clinton Cards and W.H. Smith face uphill struggles shedding staff and relying on self-service checkouts. Waste no tears on them. They were quick to elbow out long established family businesses when they arrived, filling windows with irresistible bargains that exist only because Far East manufacturers pay employees destitution wages. And newly bankrupt stores cannot blame internet shopping given that most nineteenth century retail sales were generated by mail order catalogues. Our cloned High Streets have made British towns almost identical with just two or three independent stores struggling between giant retailers. Thankfully in Ilfracombe we still have Pedlars, and in Barnstaple, stately Banbury's prospers as a quality department store against threatening odds. Small specialist shops dealing with winemakers, professional photographers and artists' needs battle on, still in demand and offering niche markets personal service with expertise and qualified advice. We must prevent the soulless multinationals squeezing them out. Redundancies are mourned as the giants collapse but what did those failed stores ever do for their customers? Was there ever any human contact beyond being told to enter a PIN number? When did a shop assistant last actually assist a customer? At Comet, for example, where was the behind-the-counter technical support from enthusiastic and knowledgeable teams who knew about the goods they were selling? Customers having after sales problems were advised to call a number and endure the wearying announcements before getting nowhere. No wonder they went bust! The vast majority of the now doomed chain stores have offered nothing resembling the retail traditions that lasted into the 1970s when family-run department stores knew what their customers wanted and catered for them. So-called loyalty cards issued by major retailers are nothing more than elaborate snooping mechanisms designed to make customers do the stock control. All we have now in the place of proper shops are glorified warehouses in which punters pick out merchandise whilst spied upon by prurient CCTV cameras in the cynical belief that everyone is a criminal shoplifter by default. Let's have some proper shops back!

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