BUSINESS owners set to close their jewellery shop after 23 years have described Worthng town centre as a ‘forgotten backwater’.
Rob Gibbons, Jim Ford and Simon Abbott, who own Zoo Jewellery, in Liverpool Road, believe the town has been left to stagnate, turning the once-thriving retail offer into the ‘pathetic helpless cousin’ of Brighton.
The trio, who will cease trading on January 16, have called on Worthing Borough Council to do more to encourage visitors and enable major redevelopment.
The council has defended its record, stating it had secured town centre investment and slashed parking prices to attract shoppers.
A letter sent to the Herald by the businessmen said: “When we first arrived in 1992, the town had the feel of a county town by the sea which was on its way to securing that image in an image-conscious world but due to mismanagement and inaction, the town has been allowed to drift and become a forgotten backwater, the pathetic helpless cousin to the glittering, successful cousin called Brighton.”
Zoo opened in Montague Street in 1992, before moving to its current store in 2001.
The new premises allowed the business to expand, with a more prominent location and larger footprint.
But Mr Abbott said footfall had steadily dropped in recent years and while the council had taken a positive step in moving car parking services in-house, he argued the town was still suffering from high parking charges.
He said: “NCP pulling out was a good thing. It was a crazy decision in the first place. I remember all the customers complaining.
“Once people get used to going somewhere else like Brighton you have lost them and it takes a long time to win customers back.”
Mr Abbott said a combination of factors, including increased competition from online retailers and out of town shops, had contributed to the closure.
He suggested a high-quality artisan market and more events to draw shoppers into the town centre to improve the situation.
The trio’s letter also pointed to high business rates, lack of major projects at places like Teville Gate coming to fruition and unfulfilled town centre redevelopment as other reasons for concern.
In response, a spokesman for Worthing Borough Council said: “The past three years have seen a sea-change in Worthing which is bringing substantial investment interest into the town.
“The council has already successfully returned Teville Gate to the market after it became stuck in the Irish banking system following the global economic downturn, and has sold Union Place to a development company for mixed use regeneration.
“The area between Splash Point and the Splashpoint Leisure Centre has received significant investment, adding to our beachfront appeal, and the success of our continually improving theatres programme is testament to our continued commitment to culture – both for its social and economic value – in the town.”
The spokesman added footfall had increased following the introduction of £1 per hour parking in the town’s multi-storey car parks and a £1.2million transformation of Montague Place was planned.
The council has pledged to continue to work with the Town Centre Initiative and Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce to increase visitor numbers, while one of its key principles declares the town ‘open for business’.
Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said she welcomed ideas for improving the town, stating engagement of businesses with organisations like the Town Centre Initiative was important.