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‘City centre future bright despite series of closures’
OXFORD city centre still has a vibrant future despite the failure of four major high street chains in recent weeks, according to a top expert.
But Dr Jonathan Reynolds, academic director at the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at the city’s Said Business School, believes how visitors use the city will change in the next few years, with more emphasis on other facilities such as restaurants, museums and parks as well as shopping.
He said: “We are well off in Oxford compared to other places as it is an affluent city and there is still demand to come into the market from retailers.
“We have tended to see retail as the be all and end all of city centres but there are other reasons for people to come in, such as bars and restaurants which make up the evening economy.
“They need to be sustainable and Oxford manages that because it has a high footfall from those visiting colleges, museums and parks that other places don’t have.
“And a vibrant mix of multiple chains and independent retailers will still attract people.”
Dr Reynolds was speaking following the collapse of camera specialist Jessops, which has two shops in Oxford, music giant HMV which has a major store in the city’s Cornmarket Street, video rental firm Blockbuster with outlets in Abingdon, Headington and Bicester and electrical retailer Comet, which had a store off Oxford’s Botley Road.
They followed the failure of major stores in recent years such as Woolworths, Habitat and Past Times, along with toy shop Hawkins Bazaar and off-licence chain Oddbins.
Dr Reynolds believes that Oxford has particular problems with the price of parking, and the recent introduction of park-and-ride charges acting as a significant disincentive for shoppers.
He said: “You pay to park and you pay on the bus before you have even started shopping.”
But he is convinced the death of the high street is not imminent, with shops being replaced by supermarkets, cafes and offices. He said: “The best retailers will still be there for the consumer.”
As for empty shops, Dr Reynolds said Oxford’s vacancy rate is about seven per cent, about half of the national figure.
And there are success stories including trendy clothing retailer Jack Wills moving into larger premises in the High Street, while sister firm Aubin & Wills has moved into its old store.
Meanwhile clothing chain H&M is due to move into the Clarendon Centre, where redevelopment work is under way.
As for HMV, he disagrees with Dragons’ Den star and high-profile retailer Theo Paphitis, who claimed it “sadly has no reason to exist any more.”
“There may be a case for retaining the better-performing stores and creating a smaller, more profitable business,” he said.