News that four national names are pulling out of Wisbech town centre and a long-standing town business has closed has been branded “a sign of the times” by council leader David Oliver.
Thomas Cook, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Clarks are all closing in the next three weeks, dealing the town centre a devastating blow.
Historic Wisbech business Bodgers, on Lynn Road, has also closed and is due to go into liquidation following a creditors’ meeting on Tuesday.
Manager Sam Bodger is the sixth generation of his family to run the 160-year-old business, which employed seven people. There will be a liquidation auction on March 12 to sell the store’s contents.
“We had a great summer, but over the winter, we ran out of cash,” Mr Bodger said. “We just couldn’t keep going. Winter is normally slow, but we took a lot less than normal. Then the bank said we needed to reduce our overdraft. We asked if we could delay it, but they had their schedule to work to.
“It was a very sad decision to make.”
He said the boom in online sales had also hit them hard in a short space of time and although they were very customer-focused, they could not compete.
The Horsefair will lose two of its stores within two days, with the Clarks shop closing on March 15 and the joint Burtons and Dorothy Perkins shop closing on March 16.
Mr Oliver said: “These are difficult conditions. It is never good to see multi-national names disappear out of the town, but at the moment, it is the way of things. It is a blow they’re moving out and a shame we can’t do anything to keep them.”
But he is hoping that the new Trespass store opening shortly in the Horsefair, in the former Paperbox shop, will “inject some kind of enthusiasm” into the town centre and help attract new business.
A spokesperson for NewRiver Retail, which owns the Horsefair, said: “The leases on the Horsefair Shopping Centre’s Burton/Dorothy Perkins and Clarks stores have now expired and we will be very sad to see them go. Our letting agents are in constant contact with the major retail chains and are alerted to high street opportunities, they will be activity seeking replacements for these units.
“The centre’s new Trespass store, which will offer outdoor clothing, shoes and accessories, is currently being fitted and they will be opening in towards the end of March. This will be a great boost addition to the Horsefair’s retail mix.”
Leases on other shops in the Horsefair are due for renewal soon and NewRiver Retail said they were “hopeful” they would remain.
Thomas Cook have refused to confirm the closure of the Market Place store. However, a letter sent to local customers states that the shop will be closing on Tuesday, February 26.
A spokesperson said: “As a leading high street travel retailer we continually review the size and shape of our retail network to ensure we have the right stores in the right places for our customers, and following a comprehensive review we are proposing that the Thomas Cook store in Wisbech closes.
“We have other stores in King’s Lynn, Peterborough, Ely and Spalding and these operate alongside www.thomascook.com, other leading travel websites and a national call centre to continue to support all of our customer’s travel needs.
“We are now working with those potentially affected colleagues and looking at redeployment opportunities as they go through the consultation period.”