Bedford town centre has suffered another loss, with the closure of the Clarks shoe shop on Harpur Street.
It comes less than a week after Tesco confirmed its Midland Road store would be closing and hot on the heels of the collapse of Debenhams and Beales, signifying additional job losses.
As shop leases come to an end, many retail chains are evaluating the need to maintain a High Street presence, leaving empty shop units up and own the UK.
With the continued uncertainty of the post-pandemic retail environment, plus overheads including business rates and the BID levy, it’s understandable that many retailers are foregoing bricks and mortar in favour of their online offer.
Cllr Ben Foley, whose Castle ward includes the town centre, said: “Nationally we need to make sure that online retail doesn’t have tax advantages over town centre retail, and if, as seems inevitable [that] there are less shops, it is out-of-town shopping centres that close down, rather than entire town centres.”
In response to the Bedford store closure, a spokesperson for Clarks said: “At Clarks, we regularly review our store portfolio to ensure each of our stores meets our customers’ needs as well as our business requirements.
“After careful consideration, we can confirm that our store in Bedford will be closing.
“We have a strong duty of care to our employees and will ensure they are fully supported as they now go through a period of consultation.”
Changing town centre landscapes
Castle ward councillor, Lucy Bywater, said: “In Bedford, dividing up the larger empty retail units for smaller businesses is a good way forward.
“We have to make our town centre a more appealing place to live too, as big retail declines leaving these empty units.
“That will mean looking at opportunities to create very local jobs, useful services such as repairs and ‘libraries of things’, entertainment and new green spaces.
“More people living and working in mixed, sustainable housing in the town centre can naturally give life to a local economy.
“This means more than tiny one bed flats in office conversions, but rather flats that are large enough for a family, including working from home in a room suitable for an office.”
While the closure of Clarks means one less shoe shop in the town centre, you can still purchase shoes at Odells on St Cuthbert’s Street, Howorth’s on Mill Street, Boutique Planet and Anorak in the Old Arcade, JD Sports, Maysons, Kempston Footwear, New Look, Next, Primark, Shoezone and TKMaxx.
Cllr Henry Vann, portfolio holder for town centres said: “Town centres across the country are changing.
“With online shopping and the added impact of the Covid-19 pandemic keeping many bricks and mortar shops closed, it has been such a difficult year for retail and we all need to support our local town centre and the independent shops, cafes and restaurants that play such a key role and I know we are all looking forward to getting back out and visiting our local favourites as soon as we can.”
He added that Bedford Borough Council has secured investment in the town centre through the High Street improvements, accelerated fund, and the Heritage Action Zone.
“All of which will help us enhance Bedford’s incredible heritage, make the High Street a better place to visit, and support our outstanding independent businesses.”