Businesses say they fear for the future of fire-hit Blandford Street and hope the blaze which has left a scar on the city centre will prompt action to keep its shops and services alive.
A section of one of Sunderland’s best-known shopping streets remains closed following the blaze which tore through Peacocks on the night of Wednesday, January 23, and traders say the issues over access are affecting livelihoods.
Independent businesses in the street say they want to see the gutted premises knocked down as a matter of urgency but demolition work is yet to begin.
The remains of the clothing store remain unsafe, with fire investigators yet to gain access.
Related: Blandford Street fire: Blaze investigators review CCTV as officers are still unable to go into unsafe Peacocks building
Some traders say they have lost up to £15,000 due to the festive lull and in drop in passing trade in wake of the fire, while two businesses have given their landlord notice on their tenancies in the last week.
While devastated by the blaze, they say it could provide a chance to turn around the fortunes of the street.
We work hard, we pay our rent and rates, but it’s in a downward spiral.Ashley Dembry
But they feel Sunderland City Council and Sunderland BID, which aims to “revitalise and regenerate” commercial areas of the city, should be doing more to improve the area.
Their suggestions include creating an opening into Holmeside, smartening up the street and better communication with the council and BID.
Late last month, Sunderland AFC players and club management visited the street to lend their support.
Read more: Sunderland players and executive director Charlie Methven visit fire-hit Blandford Street in show of support for businesses
Among those concerned is Jonathan Pickup, who runs JP Hair, and moved his business to Sunderland from Newcastle seven years ago.
“They need to start thinking about planning for Blandford Street because this is a busy street in Sunderland, but it doesn’t feel like it’s moved on,” said Jonathan.
“It needs to be updated, generally it looks untidy, the flag stones, it’s a disgrace.
“A lot of my clients came with us from Newcastle and customers have to walk down a back lane.
“It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Sunderland and we are trying to make it a better area, this doesn’t help.
“I think the city council need to invest.”
Ashley Dembry, one of the stylists who works from the business, added: “I’ve been in this street for 20 years, so it’s close to my heart, and to see it now, compared to how it used to be, it’s just a crying shame.
“It used to be jewellers, nice shops and businesses, and all we can see is it’s dying a death, there’s no heart and soul in it.
“It’s our future and livelihoods and people are anxious.
“We work hard, we pay our rent and rates, but it’s in a downward spiral.”
Robert Robson, who runs Rob’s butchers shop, said the fire had “destroyed the street” and the council was not investing in the area, while spending elsewhere.
Related: Blandford Street fire: Shocking pictures show damage caused by huge blaze in Sunderland city centre
Ken Craig, who runs The Blandford pub with partner Liz Riley, said: “We’ve lost hundreds of pounds since the fire and people still think we’re shut.
“People come down the street as they go from pub to pub and now they can’t.”
Peter Whale, who works for Barber and Whale carpet store run by his brother John and sister-in-law Louise, said the business had moved to Blandford Street nine months ago to a spot with an increased footfall, but had lost £15,000 since December.
He said: “My brother and Louise moved from Fawcett Street because there’s more footfall and we’ve seen a massive improvement, but after the fire it’s really dropped off, I’m devastated for them.
“The street needs cleaned up.”
Sunderland City Council says it is working with people in Blandford Street in the aftermath of the blaze - and also wants to see it fully reopened as soon as possible.
Council Leader, Councillor Graeme Miller, said: “We are continuing to talk to businesses in Blandford Street and to look at how we can support them following the fire.
“We understand the acuteness of the situation and are keen to work with them to progress things as soon as possible which is why some of my officers are meeting with them at their request tomorrow to discuss their concerns.
“We also share their desire to see the street fully reopened as soon as possible.
“From a public safety point of view this can’t happen until the building has been demolished because of the risk of it collapsing following the fire, but in the meantime we have made sure there is signage in place advising that while there is no through route businesses are open as usual.
“And while responsibility for the demolition rests with the owners and their insurers, we are also continuing to liaise with them to try to speed things along as much as possible. We have always had an open door to businesses and we are as keen as ever to understand how we can work together where appropriate.”
A spokeswoman for Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID) said it was not the case that its team had not been working to support businesses in the street.
She added: “The BID was on site on Thursday and Friday after the fire and the following Wednesday and have been in constant communication with the businesses, particularly those which are unable to trade.
“Everybody was given business manager Kirsty Currie’s contact details if they had any questions.
“They were informed they would be updated as soon as more information was available.”