City Centre South Retail Exodus Commences

Photo: Tristan Potter/Coventry Live

The Coventry Telegraph has reported that the exodus of independent retailers from the city centre caused by the ill-thought-out City Centre South scheme has commenced

The manager of a knitting shop that’s been in Coventry for 52 years said it’s “just not feasible” to stay in the city centre when its premises are redeveloped because rents are too high. Jonathan Wilson has worked for Busy Fingers, a craft store selling yarns, patterns and hooks, for around 20 years.

But the family-run business will be left without a city centre home when the City Arcade, where it rents a unit, is knocked down as part of the £98 million Coventry City Centre South redevelopment. Wilson, 57, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the shop can’t afford to move elsewhere in the centre.

“Everywhere we’ve looked at is three to four times the rent,” he said. “The shop’s doing okay, but it’s just not feasible.”

Their other shop in Hinckley is “a fraction of the cost” of what it would take to stay in Coventry.

Photo: Tristran Potter, Coventry Live

Busy Fingers was set up by Jonathan’s parents and has been in the centre since 1970. Asked how they are feeling about closing up in Coventry, Jonathan said: “They don’t like it really. It’s goodbye.”

Customers of Busy Fingers are loyal – “a few will follow us anywhere” – and the shop has an increasingly popular online outlet. But Jonathan enjoys talking to customers and says people of all ages, including university students, still come here to buy their craft supplies in person.

He’s critical of how the city council have handled the redevelopment. “They don’t tell us anything, there’s been no communication at all,” he said. “I just don’t think they are that bothered any more.”

Plans to knock down the City Arcade and other city centre buildings for housing, a hotel and retail, were given the green light last year. A Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) has now been made for the land and developers Shearer Property Group hope to start work in the next nine months.

The Coventry Society objected to the development for a number of reasons, including that there was no adequate provision for independent retailers in the new development. The Society has long campaigned for the City Council to develop a policy to protect independent retailers in the city centre.  City Centre South will remove the largest remaining enclave of independent retailers in the city centre, leaving mainly chain stores which make their decisions based on national profitability comparisons.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs, Regeneration and Climate Change, showed little sympathy for the retailer telling the LDR Service that people from around the city have been engaged with on the redevelopment. He said that officers have been down to talk to businesses in the City Arcade to help them find new premises, while some have already found alternative space.

He stressed that the scheme is a “huge opportunity” for Coventry, creating jobs and homes and attracting new businesses to the centre. Cllr O’Boyle also said the Arcade is costing the city money and efforts by the authority to revive it have not been successful. “It’s tough but it is the right decision,” he said.

And so the destruction of the city’s post-war heritage continues.

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