FREE parking and a good variety of customer choice is the secret to success for a bustling South Tyneside shopping street, say happy traders.
Yesterday, the Gazette spoke to worried shop owners in Fowler Street, South Shields, who fear for the future amid a decline in footfall and an increase in vacant shop units.
The despondency comes as concerns remain over the state of King Street after yet another major retailer, Dorothy Perkins, announced it was closing down its premises.
But, by contrast, confidence is booming just a couple of miles away among businesses located in the Harton Nook shopping area on Prince Edward Road.
Traders there say access to free parking on the doorstep – motorists can park free for up to two hours outside the shops – and the variety of outlets are the main reasons for its success.
The lack of vacant units is in sharp contrast to the town centre’s two major shopping districts.
Ruth Musleh and Christine Bonar have ran Cheeky Monkey’s, a gift and card shop at The Nook, for six years – and say business is buoyant.
Christine said: “When we were setting up the business we looked at a place off Fowler Street, but the rates and rents were ridiculously high.
“They are reasonable here and we’re so glad we moved here instead.
“Free parking for two hours obviously helps. It gives people time to relax when they shop.
“The transport infrastructure is good too – the buses drop customers off practically outside the door. Tesco Express opening up has also helped”
Ruth added: “It’s a much better environment than Shields. The range of shops is much greater and people are much more friendly.”
It’s a view shared by Claire Carlson, owner of The Nook Pet and Garden Supplies, who said: “You might struggle to get parked outside on occasion, but it’s free and that’s undoubtedly a plus.
“There are also a lot of sole traders, which gives a vibrancy to the area.
“King Street is so depressing but there’s a hustle and bustle here.
“It’s not been all plain sailing. There was a bit of a dip during the Cleadon Park regeneration programme, but that’s behind us now.
“The council has been good with its small business rate scheme. I don’t pay any council tax now. That is a huge help.”
Annemarie Georgson has just sold on her business, Annie’s Traditional Sweet Shop, but the new owner is keeping the name.
She said: “If you look around here you won’t find many empty units and there isn’t the high percentage of charity shops and mobile phone shops that you get in King Street.
“We have a lot of loyal customers and there is a very friendly atmosphere. The rents are reasonable, which is a big help too.”
The only voice of relative caution came from Graham Houghton, owner of Budget Pet Supplies, who says he has noticed a reduction in footfall in recent months.
But he added: “I’d still say it is a lot better than King Street and the rates and rents are a lot lower.
“I used to be based at the Inshops in Jarrow and I’d say that the centre here is probably on a par with Jarrow town centre in terms of its vitality.”