THE word on the street is that Fowler Street in South Shields has seen better days.
The town centre’s second main shopping area is a shadow of its former self.
And existing businesses there say they face an uncertain future given plans to demolish a section of the units over the next decade to enable the £100m South Shields 365 masterplan to become a reality.
In Fowler Street the list of units vacated include the Energy Advice Centre, Uptown Girl, Martech Training, TDG estate agents, Watson and Brown, the British Army Recruitment, South Tyneside Job Search Solutions and Exceed Learning.
The street suffered another body-blow last month when the well-known Riddicks shoe shop closed its doors after 120 years of trading, while a cluster of empty units at its heart is having a definite impact on its commercial viability, say remaining retailers.
Given that backdrop we asked town centre shoppers if they thought the area still had a long-term future.
Retired South Shields shotblaster Robert Sisterson, 66, said: “I travel quite a bit but when I come home I notice how much the town centre is going downhill. When I was younger Fowler Street was a thriving and bustling shopping area.
“It was the kind of place where you could meet up with people and have a chat. That doesn’t happen anymore. People just seem to head for the nearest hypermarket or supermarket – they are bypassing the town centres. Sadly, I don’t see it getting any better.”
Helen Hill, who runs the animal charity shop Feline Friends, located just off Fowler Street in Winchester Street, said: “You just can’t imagine a potential trader moving into Fowler Street when they see all the shutters down and the broken windows. It just looks bleak. To me the focus of the regeneration plans seem to be the library on the riverside.
“This end of town has been forgotten about.”
Ex-Plessey worker John Holt, 69, was so concerned at the state of the town centre he went to see town MP Emma Lewell-Buck at one of her surgeries.
He said “I live at the top of Mile End Road. Fowler Street and King Street are on my doorstep, but there is no incentive to go and shop there. I use my free bus pass to go to The Nook instead because there is so much more variety there.
“I’m bypassing the shops on my doorstep because the quality is so poor.”
Super flyweight boxer Anthony ‘Babyface’ Nelson pulled no punches in his retail assessment.
The 28-year-old, from Simonside, said: “To be honest I never come into town because there’s nothing here but charity shops and cheap shops and there’s no free parking.
“I’m much more likely go to The Nook. There’s no reason to come down here.”
Retired welder Ronald Harrison, 85, of Whiteleas Way, South Shields, was equally damning.
He said: “Fowler Street is a deadend. The same is happening to Fowler Street that happened to Frederick Street a few years ago.
“Shields has the best beaches in the country – but one of the worst town centres.”
For an outsider’s view we asked coach driver Alex Sherriff, 65, from Sunderland.
He said: “I come to Shields on a Friday to go to the market. What is happening in Fowler Street is what is happening in town centres everywhere. Small businesses are no longer setting up in town centre shopping areas, there is not enough money in them, and shoppers are heading off to the MetroCentre or Boldon Asda to get all their shopping instead.
“I’ve also noticed that most of the people who are shopping in the street are elderly – you don’t see many young people.
“It’s not all doom and gloom because Shields still has a brilliant seafront, but that is so good it exposes the deficiencies of the town centre itself. It’s a big contrast.”