Leading retailer is optimistic about the future of Leicester’s Highcross shopping center despite going bankrupt
A receivership could be the “reboot” the Highcross mall needs, say downtown retailers. News of the centre’s situation following huge losses caused some to fear the worst for Leicester’s high street.
Readers claimed Leicester city center has lost some of its appeal in recent years, particularly following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. However, according to some, the picture is very different for local retailers.
Dominic Gomersall, the managing director of Lumbers Jewelers in the High Street, said businesses like his depended on the success of the Highcross and dismissed any claims that his administration would mean the High Street’s demise.
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“People remain eager to experience and attendance figures for many downtown shops show trade is good. Saturday trading has re-emerged in Leicester where the variety of leisure, shopping and eating out is like nothing in Leicestershire,” he told LeicestershireLive.
The retail chief added that downtown is the “beating heart” of the surrounding county. While acknowledging the financial difficulties the center has faced, Mr Gomersall said it is still a thriving focal point for the city and believed it would only become more successful if it got out of receivership.
“This should be seen as an opportunity for a highcross reset,” he said. “Obviously if anything untoward were to happen to the Highcross it would have a dramatic impact on the town center but it’s still a very successful mall and I’m sure another company will take over.”
Around the corner from Lumbers, on Cart’s Lane, is one of the city’s oldest independent retailers, Withers Sports. The racket shop was first established in 1940 and has survived Leicester’s changing retail landscape for over eight decades.
So was director Steve Bret surprised by the news of the bankruptcy trustee? “No – probably not,” he said. “Because of all the stores they’ve lost, it wasn’t a big surprise.
“I think the footfall in the city center is not back to what it was before Covid. But I think every city center has been affected in the last four or five years.”
Withers Officers is a niche product that Steve’s clients typically travel to town for, but he admitted the prospect of losing the main mall was a concern. “It would affect us, although not as much as some of the other independent businesses like cafes and restaurants,” he said.
“We don’t want to move away from the city center – that’s very important to us. The Lanes is a beautiful area [Highcross] it would be bad for the city, but I think someone will see the benefit of what it brings and buy it.”
A change of ownership could be good news for current and potential retailers at the mall, according to Leicester retail property consultant Martin Herbert. He said a new owner could offer retailers “more realistic and reasonable prices” – something he said current owner Hammerson hasn’t done, he said.
He added, “There are retailers in highcross who wanted to take up more space but were never able to agree terms with Hammerson. They were either inflexible post Covid or their hands were lined up by the banks.”
High rental costs have contributed to a number of closures, including by larger retailers such as Debenhams. Recent closures include Bill’s restaurant and stationery store Paperchase.
“I think once the Highcross is bought there will be a lot more retailers,” added Mr. Herbert. “I think retailers will also have an opportunity at this time to sit down with a new owner and negotiate new deals.
Savills previously told LeicestershireLive it was working to “improve the shopping experience” by bringing more users to the centre. It could not be confirmed if it was looking for a buyer for Highcross. Hammerson was contacted for comment.
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