One of Blackpool’s best known independent fashion shop owners says retail needs a radical rethink in town centre

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Retail in Blackpool needs a major re-think to keep shops on some of the resort’s streets, says one of the town’s leading independents.

 

The doors are set to close at designer clothing store Blueberries on Topping Street next month after 37 years of keeping the fashion-conscious looking smart.

Sarah McConville, who owned the shop with her mum Joan Kershaw, said the repeated bouts of roadworks in the town, combined with a lack of cheap parking and a change in people’s shopping habits, meant that the business was no longer able to continue.

Sarah said her mum’s declining health and the catastrophic drop in the number of people going into town during the coronavirus lockdowns finally made up her mind that the time was right to take a step back.

Sarah McConville is set to close the doors on her designer clothes shop Blueberries in topping Street in AugustSarah McConville is set to close the doors on her designer clothes shop Blueberries in topping Street in August

The shop was founded by Joan Kershaw in 1984 and was originally in Grosvenor Street before growth prompted a move to Cedar Square and then the three storey building it currently occupies in Topping Street.

But now the building is being advertised for lease with hopes that it might become a restaurant.

Sarah said the high street had become a difficult place to trade on and that Blueberries online sales had kept the Topping Street shop afloat for many years.

She said: “We are all very sad to have to shut our doors, but this is the time.

Jessica Coop, Sarah McConville and Michelle Dickinson inside Blueberries. Sarah says changing shopping habits, repeated road works in town and lask of footfall due to Covid have hit the businessJessica Coop, Sarah McConville and Michelle Dickinson inside Blueberries. Sarah says changing shopping habits, repeated road works in town and lask of footfall due to Covid have hit the business

“We have had so many lovely messages from customers since we announced the closure and I would like to thank all the customers for their support.

“One of the important reasons for Blueberries’ success over 37 years is the absolutely amazing staff we have had, many who have worked for us for years and the present manager Michelle Dickinson has been with us for over 17 years.

“I don’t think there are many independent businesses that will have done as long as we have in the town centre.”

But she said the number of shoppers in Topping Street had plunged in recent years.

Sarah McConville owner , centre, Michelle Dickinson right, store manager and Jessica Coop, left, store assistant outside Blueberries in Topping StreetSarah McConville owner , centre, Michelle Dickinson right, store manager and Jessica Coop, left, store assistant outside Blueberries in Topping Street

She said: “There is just not enough footfall for a business like ours in Blackpool any more.

“Ever since Topping Street lost its on street parking and they put a bus route down the road, things changed. That was the death knell.

“We started our online business which helped us stay in the town centre for years, but now we find with Debenhams closing the good retail outlets in the town centre are few.

“When we moved on to Topping Street 20 years ago we were told that it would be made a great place for independents, but that never happened. Yes there had been work to improve the town done, but what that meant was when lockdown was eased we still could not open because the roads were closed for such long periods of time.

“We suffered with so many road closures over the years for various reasons.

“It is not just because of the lockdowns. What Covid has done has highlighted the deprivation here and the town is not as attractive to locals anymore.

“Both myself and my mother who is a partner in the business have been big advocates for Blackpool over the years.

“When we started 37 years ago, we were instrumental in bringing all the big names to Blackpool, Helmut Lang, Paul Smith, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace.

“All our customers who used to come into Blackpool, from Lytham and St Annes, Cleveleys, all around the Fylde etc, don’t come into the town centre anymore.

“It is difficult to negotiate, the parking is too expensive. Nothing has been done to make the town attractive to the local people and that’s very sad.

“They are digging up the road again on Talbot Road at the end of Topping Street. We have been told some of Topping is going to be redone because of problems with the buses navigating down here.

“With all the recent road works retail businesses did not get any financial aid at all from the council.

“After lockdown eased things just didn’t improve at all.

“We might have a lot of visitors coming to the Promenade and attractions but Blackpool’s town’s people are not back shopping in the centre, because there’s not as much to come shopping for. Something needs to be done for the future, there needs to be new plan.”

She said because of the type of exclusivity contracts with the top designer labels, it meant it was not possible to easily move the business to another Fylde area and could not just make it an online business with out having a physical shop.

“My mum Joan who has been in the business for 37 years has now got Alzheimers. She was working right up until lockdown, even with her condition.

“It has been her absolute life and passion, serving customers and looking after them. Now because of the virus, she can’t be in a position of coming back to the shop.

She said that the heydays of the shop were in the 80s and 90s when Blackpool was noted by its popular nightclub scene which attracted people from all over the North West as well as Fylde locals. She said: “We have had so many comments about how Blueberries was important in their growing up, teenage years.

“Blackpool had a massive club scene, everyone used to come and buy their Patrick Cox shoes and going out gear.

“Everyone went out two or three times a week and people used to get dressed up to go out. People don’t do that anymore, times have changed.

“We have three generations of families who have shopped with us, we have been here so long!”

She said the building was now up for lease and Blueberries is running a closing down sale.

She added: “Topping Street was always a good eating area and so maybe it can become a restaurant quarter in the future and this building would made a fantastic restaurant. We are running a sale on throughout July and anticipate we will be closing in August.

“We are just incredibly sad to have to close, but the saddest thing is Blackpool town centre. Something radically needs to be done regarding the retail here.”

Coun Mark Smith, Blackpool Council Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Job Creation, said: “Pandemic lockdowns and tier restrictions over the past 15 months have had a significant impact on the retail economy across the UK.

“Some of the roadworks in the town centre are directly linked to improvements in the street scene in areas such as Topping Street where there has been a significant investment in new shop fronts and public space.

“Council parking fees have been frozen since 2017 and we do offer discounts to help stimulate town centre footfall at key trading periods.”