ANXIOUS city centre traders are pleading with council bosses to help revive a ‘ghost town’ shopping centre ahead of the three-year wait for the multi-million Northgate redevelopment scheme.
The four remaining traders in the Forum Shopping Centre say they are facing a daily battle to save their livelihoods since the demise of 13 neighbouring shops – including a supermarket and other shoppers’ favourites including T J Hughes and Greggs bakers in recent times.
Traders claim the footfall at the West Cheshire and Chester Council-owned Forum Shopping Centre has become virtually non-existent with insufficient attraction to shoppers. Stallholders at the adjacent Chester Market are also feeling the effects of the sharp decline in footfall.
Meanwhile market traders have renewed pleas for council bosses to improve signage to alert visitors and shoppers to the ailing market, at designated places around the city – in particular around the town hall.
Last month the Leader told how the planned Northgate Development – which could bring up to 1,600 news jobs to the area along with new shops, flats, bars and restaurants, had taken a another major step forward with construction expected to begin in 2016, with completion in 2020 or sooner.
But worried traders fear their businesses will not survive long enough to see such a development complete and, say unless action is taken to open the door to new traders at the Forum Shopping Centre, the death knell will sound for their livelihoods.
Sandra Riley who has owned the Flowerbox Stall in the centre of the Forum Shopping Centre for the last five years says he has experienced a 50 per cent drop in trade since the demise of the neighbouring shops.
She said: “We, as traders, need help with the situation. There are so many shops that have closed which in turn means that the footfall is just not there anymore and we are struggling.
“We are asking for the council to help us by making it possible for traders to come on board and fill the units here in the Forum, possibly by offering a decrease in rental to enable traders to come on board.
“We just cannot stand still and things cannot continue as they are because we will be without livelihoods because the footfall will disappear altogether.
“I know that times are hard, everywhere is the same, but there needs to be more of an incentive for shoppers to come in to the Forum, more of an incentive than there is now.
“The people here trading in the Forum are lovely, a great group of people who just need a bit of support.”
Meanwhile, Sandra Taker, proprietor of Toolcraft based in Chester Market, says trade has also been hit by 50 per cent, with everyday proving a struggle to keep the business above water.
Sandra, who has been in the market trade for 59 years after getting involved through her family, is calling on the CWaC to take action to support traders by introducing signpostings to Chester Market, something which she says traders have been battling for decades.
Sandra said: “We’ve pleaded with the council for signposts because there is just not enough awareness about the market.
“Traders would benefit from placing signs at the coach park at the Little Roodee and the coach park on Grosvenor Road in the city where visitors arrive.
“We need finger posts. It’s not too much to ask from a council who say they agree an ancient and historic place such as this city, should have a market. The council say one thing but do another.”
Sandra is also becoming increasingly concerned about the decline in footfall at the market and the Forum Shopping Centre and says of her fears for trade in the future.
“It’s the people of Chester who keep the lights on and keep this city going but yet what do we get back?
“My business was going to be my nestegg but the way things are I can’t afford to retire. Something needs to be done and fast.”
Geoff Hughes, who owns the butchers in the market, agrees more should be done to encourage retailers to take up leases in the Forum in the interim period ahead of the Northgate Redevelopment.
“There just simply isn’t enough in the Forum to attract shoppers inside. The town is split in half with the major department stores at the other end of town from the Forum, but what about traders in the Forum and traders here in the market? They are struggling and it cannot go on, it is like a ghost town.”
A CWaC spokesman said: “The council recently acquired The Forum and it is well known that this is for the Northgate scheme.
“In the interim, we will be doing the very best we can to increase the footfall and the number of tenants in the Forum and will be looking at the best ways to do that.
“We are conscious of the poor image that empty units can project and we will be looking at a range of options, including flexible lease terms, to get the units occupied, together with appropriate management and promotional activities pending redevelopment.
“We are also considering a range of options to increase the number of shoppers in the market.”