TECHNOLOGY and out-of-town retailing are the two biggest threats facing high street shops, says a Huddersfield business leader.
Camera retailer Jessops this week became the latest UK retailer to hit the buffers – with administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers closing all 200 stores, including one at Queen Street in Huddersfield, with the loss of about 2,000 jobs.
The loss of the Queen Street store means another “hole on the high street” in Huddersfield to join a list of vacant shop units in prominent sites such as New Street, Market Street and the Piazza and the Packhorse centres.
Jessops’ woes have been blamed on competition from online retailers and the boom in camera phones, which has hit demand for digital cameras.
Steven Leigh, head of policy at the Lockwood-based Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Jessops is all about selling cameras.
“But in the modern world, people are using iPhones and sending pictures electronically. It is a business that no longer has anything going for it because technology has changed the market.”
He said internet shopping threatened town centre stores at a time when local councils were “penalising” motorists with increasing car parking charges.
“Motorists are not welcome in town centre,” he said. “In general terms, councils are increasing parking charges in town centres – which deter people from going into them.
“As councils get more and more strapped for cash, they increasingly view parking charges as a revenue raiser, which is draining life from the town centres.
“As retailers pull out of town centres, these centres become progressively less attractive to customers, who can drive to a one-stop shop out of town with free parking or shop online from the comfort of their own home and get it delivered.”
Mr Leigh said there were increasing concerns about the long-term future of town centres.
“It is jobs that are disappearing and it is very worrying, but these are developments of the modern world.”
Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, who has called for a Task Force to revive the town’s stricken George Hotel, said it was “too soon to sound the death knell” for town centre retailing and called for imaginative initiatives to promote the high street.
Referring to the high-profile national campaign to revitalise town centres led by shopping guru Mary Portas, he said: “We don’t need her. We should do something ourselves.
“How do we bring life back to retailing? I will be speaking to Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership and Kirklees Council about it.”
The Labour MP repeated his call for efforts to attract “up-market” and “prime retailers” to the town.
And he said: “We will get out of the recession eventually and when we do we need Huddersfield to be ready. We need to make retailing fun because people still like to go shopping.”
However, the recent arrival of new businesses such as Department Forty Four and Creams tearooms suggest that independent traders remain confident about the town centre.
A spokeswoman for Kirklees Council said a range of initiatives was under way to promote town centre traders and attract visitors.
They included the launch of a new gallery space at the Packhorse Centre to showcase local artists and community groups.
And a new click-and-collect website – www.yourhighstreetdirect.com – was helping independent retailers compete with e-traders by allowing customers to order goods online for collection at a time convenient to them.