More than 100 traders in a once-thriving Birmingham high street face closure in the next three months, according to a senior member of the business community.
Stan Hems, chairman of the Kings Heath Business Association, says half of the 287 association members have reported their slowest ever Christmas and harbour grave fears for the imminent future of their shops as the economic slump shows no signs of halting.
Six shops along the High Street between Poplar Road and Addison Road in Kings Heath, not including the soon-to-be redundant Woolworths and Adams stores, lie vacant, prompting a dramatic decline in footfall which has hit the tills of traders on the main thoroughfare but also on nearby side streets.
Mr Hems, whose business Johnstans Butchers in the High Street is the second oldest in Kings Heath, said: “A lot of our members are struggling. 50 per cent are saying it’s the worst Christmas they have ever had.
“They are worried they are not going to be here in three months’ time. There’s been a major knock-on effect from the High Street - it’s all down to footfall.”
Mr Hems is spearheading the launch of a campaign called ‘If You Don’t Use Them, You’ll Lose Them’ in a bid to encourage more people to shop in the High Street and surrounding area.
He said: “The public complain about the High Street but it’s up to the public to use the High Street and local shops and they will stay.
“But if they don’t, these shops will go and once they’ve gone you’ll never get them back.
“There’s a national pattern and ghost towns encourage crime and vandalism.”
Rebecca Willett is manager of the InShops centre in the High Street, which offers retail space at minimal rent for about 25 different traders.
She said: “It’s certainly the worst Christmas I’ve ever known in 10 years of retail. Anybody not thinking about their future is not in the real world. About 30 per cent (of traders at InShops) are saying they don’t know if they can stay on at the centre.
“We offer a cheaper rate than the High Street yet we are struggling to find retailers to come into the town and are struggling to keep them. If we can get through January, February and March we might be okay but it’s going to be a crucial time.”
Chris O’Neil, owner of Relax in Style furniture store in York Road and marketing director of the Kings Heath Centre Partnership, blames greedy property companies for hiking up rent on retail spaces forcing household names, including McDonald’s, out of Kings Heath High Street.
“The landlords need to get realistic,” he said. “Landlords need to cut rents and the Government has to help. We’ve all got to work together and we’ve all got to settle for less.”