The new year is set to bring ‘exciting things’ for Worthing Town Centre after a 2018 filled with ups and downs for traders.
The summer’s heat wave drew in crowds and brought a welcome boost to retailers, according to town centre manager Sharon Clarke, mitigating a wet December and the threat to the high street posed by online shopping.
“Worthing is holding its own,” said Mrs Clarke.
“We’re still having lots of new businesses and food retailers coming in – the few vacancies we do have already have businesses lined up to fill them.
“A lot of people have been saying the last Saturday before Christmas was a very, very strong trading day but poor weather in the weeks beforehand had affected them negatively.”
She said typical December Saturdays would see 35,000 shoppers hit the town centre, but several Saturdays only saw about half that number this time around.
The ten days leading up to Christmas typically see a surge in activity for high street retailers, said Mrs Clarke, as people do not trust online purchases to be delivered on time so take to the streets to snap up those last minute bargains.
“Overall I would say it was satisfactory,” she said.
“Not really good, not really bad. The heat wave did fantastically for us and helped to mitigate the bad weather towards Christmas.”
Mrs Clarke said the high street’s future rests with independent retailers, particularly for older shoppers who like to go to shops, and who are perhaps not as proficient at using the internet as the younger generations.
High-profile closures, such as HMV going into administration and the uncertainty surrounding Debenhams, had made residents support smaller, local retailers, she said.
She also pointed to plans to turn the town centre into a ‘leisure hub’, through a mixture of retail, dining and leisure activities.
Around £6million of investment is planned for the town centre over the next few years, including the pedestrianisation of Portland Road which is set to be completed by the beginning of 2020.
Work is also due to begin this year on connecting South Street to the seafront, alongside the ongoing regeneration of the Montague Quarter.
In October, local estate agent Michael Jones and Company was appointed as the leasing agent for the project in a bid to attract further investment.
On top of business developments for the town centre, plans have also been submitted for residential developments on the old Mothercare site in South Street and to convert the Beales buildings into 45 new flats and seven retail outlets.
The ‘exciting investments’ can only be a boost for retailers, said Mrs Clarke, who said come April, when businesses would have a clearer idea of their futures, the high street would flourish.
“Once Brexit is sorted, Worthing has got some exciting things happening,” she said.
“Once everyone knows where they stand, people will start to go out more.”