‘Use it or lose it’ – Sunderland shoppers are urged by retailers in ‘forgotten’ shopping street

Blandford Street, Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
Blandford Street, Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
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Businesses in a forgotten shopping street have urged people to use it or lose it as they battle for the area to be improved.

Retailers in Blandford Street spoke out after the Echo reported that independent clothing shop Arc is set to close, with owner Adam Clarke bringing an end to his family running shops in the city for 90 years.

“How many of these people, sitting behind their keyboards, are willing to put their hands in their pockets and support these businesses?”

Robert Robson, owner Rob’s Quality Butchers

Mr Clarke is closing down because more shoppers are going online or taking their business out of town.

But he also said traders in the area were being let down because money was being spend in other parts of 
the city and Blandford Street had “been left to be so 
grotty”.

His broadside came just over a month after Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID) – tasked to breathe new life into the city centre and improve footfall – made their chief executive, Ken Dunbar, redundant.

The BID’s Gemma Dishman said: “It’s very sad news that a long-standing retailer in the city is closing its doors and we realise that we need to continue to create events to drive people into the city centre.

“Initiatives such as the Snowdogs, late night shopping and restaurant week have helped us achieve that, and these kinds of projects, coupled with the large amount of investment, will hopefully help us get people to spend time and money in Sunderland.”

But Robert Robson, owner of Rob’s Quality Butchers, disagrees that enough is being done, and has urged shoppers to return to independent retailers or risk losing them.

He said: “According to the BID we have £1.5billion being spent, but they seem to have forgotten about Blandford Street.

“The number one priority should be attracting people into the city centre.

“Why do we only have free parking at Christmas and on a Thursday night? Why can’t they do a month-long free trial?”

He added: “Why not give every retailer in Blandford Street two or three or four years free, as long as the money that would have gone to the council is used on improving the premises.

“The council charges us £1,550 per month in business rates and £200 per month in bin collections. That’s a lot to make just to cover costs.

“The average rent is £2,000 to £3,000 a month – which would be fine with busy city centre footfall but we don’t have that.”

He added: “There are also far too many people commenting on social media, complaining about the number of charity shops.”

“The question is how many of these people, sitting behind their keyboards, are willing to put their hands in their pockets and support these businesses.

“I would love to bet that 90% of them don’t.”

Joan Roberts, who has worked in Muller’s Swiss Bakers and Confectioners for 15 years says that it is not just Blandford Street where the bakery is based, that is being neglected.

She said: “Unfortunately all of Sunderland is being neglected.

“We’ve got an empty unit opposite. Is that going to be another charity shop?

“Betting shops and charity shops, that’s all we seem to have in these streets.

“Sunderland in general is deteriorating.”

She added: “The Christmas market was nothing. There were no stalls or anything.

“I just want some more shops for people of my age, some quality clothing shops.”

Shopper Margaret Watson, 83, said she preferred to support independent retailers, like butchers, bakers and fruit and veg shops.

The pensioner, from Pallion, said: “I guess it is our generation. We weren’t used to going to supermarkets, but it’s what the young ones do these days.

“I can’t say I blame them, but I like going into town and to potter around the shops.”

Thomas Morton, 57, said: “It just looks so rundown.

“It’s really sad when you think how things used to be like here.”