Retailers in Birmingham’s traditional shopping heartland fear a major investment in the city’s exclusive Mailbox could be another nail in the coffin for them.
The Post revealed last week that £50 million is set to be invested in the shopping and leisure destination to improve facilities and attract more customers, following on from major investments in New Street Station and the giant John Lewis store.
While the hundreds of millions being ploughed into the city centre schemes have been widely welcomed, shopkeepers in Corporation Street and the Great Western Arcade have warned a loss of footfall is making it near-impossible to operate.
The development of the Bullring and work on the new Metro along Corporation Street have already hit trade, and retailers fear the Mailbox upgrade will be another blow, with shoppers flowing away from the older shopping haunts.
David Johnson, owner of jeweller Rex Johnson and Sons in Corporation Street, said footfall had already fallen by as much as 80 per cent since the start of work on the Metro.
Mr Johnson said he was committed to Corporation Street for as long as it is financially viable – but it was becoming “impossible” for many retailers to continue to operate there.
He said: “This is a big concern. Corporation Street was first cut in 1902 and it was the main shopping street in Birmingham. With the Bullring, the Metro being constructed, and now this – it has completely changed the footflow in the city centre.
“At the moment to survive in the street is impossible.”
Paul Lamb, owner of Sims Footwear in the Great Western Arcade, said there did not appear to be a plan to keep shoppers in the traditional retail zone.
He said: “It is a free-for-all and the traditional city centre is being totally forgotten. Now I think we are going to see how bad things really are. We have got shops that have been empty for more than 10 years, that says it all.”
Mr Lamb said business rates were a major part of the problem, and in many cases retailers would not be able to operate at a profit even on a rent-free basis.
He added: “The only thing we exist on is the office trade from 12am to 2pm. That is where our business is at now. We are doing a bit online, but that doesn’t really work with the expense of being here. The whole thing just needs tearing up and starting again. We are almost past the point of no return.”
But deputy council leader Ian Ward said the investment in the Mailbox was testament to the growing confidence in Birmingham city centre.
However, he admitted that work would have to take place to boost footfall in other parts of the centre.
He said: “We do have to think about what the consequences are of a shift in the gravity for shoppers in the city centre.
“The Bullring had an impact on that, and similarly with the opening of the shopping mall over New Street Station and the refurbishment of the Mailbox there will be another shift in the gravity. We need to think about what we are going to do in the other areas, such as Corporation Street, to keep all parts of the city centre vibrant.
“One of the things that will help with Corporation Street is the Metro line coming down there, which will increase footfall.”
Jonathan Cheetham, chair of Retail Birmingham, said the Mailbox investment will strengthen the city centre.
He added: “New Street and High Street offer some of the UK’s biggest names and there are a growing number of independent retailers with the city’s arcades, with Great Western Arcade seeing significant interest for units over the last six months. Bennetts Hill is fast growing as a dining quarter in the heart of the city centre, while Cannon Street offers many high-end brands.
“With this in mind, Retail Birmingham will continue to support its members to ensure that they remain in position to benefit as the city retail offer is enriched and the visitor experience radically improves.”