"Jersey's main shopping high street is trading at full occupancy. Footfall is up compared to last year and there are signs sales are picking up. The Town Centre manager says St Helier is ready for summer visitors and none of the shops are empty. Richard Mackenzie says the town is ready for visitors from France and the UK over the summer months. "We're very lucky, we walk along this high street, there's not one closed shop. "There's a shop waiting for re-development but there's not one closed shop so we're very positive on that." A recent report has just come over from the UK, from Deloitte say that they have one in five shops in the UK high street are closed." (Channel Television News)
That's all very well and good, but move down Don Road, just off the high street, or down Bath Street, around Halkett Place, or any number of the roads which are offshoots from the high street, and the picture is very different. There are empty shops, some of which have been empty for a considerable amount of time.
It's a bit like a human body. Poor circulation tends to effect the extremities first, rather than the heart at the centre. But poor circulation in arms and legs is a symptom which should not be dismissed because the heart is still beating away, in a regular pattern.
So far from sounding a note of triumph, I think the note should be one of caution. The fact that some shop fronts have been empty for over a year, and in one case at least, over three years, should give us pause.
That shop in question is far from the high street, but it is in a fairly good location. It used to be Gaudin's Bakery, and it is next to the Millennium Park. It was empty before the park was built and has remained so; a white boarded up shop front.
The shops around that area have not done particularly well either. Blockbusters is gone, and the shop beside it, having been a variety of outlets – travel agent, furniture shop etc. – has now settled down into that most ubiquitous of outlets – the turf accountant.
The "bookie" seems to be the one shop that is thriving in a recession – there are four in St Brelade alone – but do we want so many of our empty shops to become book makers, simply because they are profitable?
In the actual road beside the park, the same area used to boast a small Portuguese café, and that lease expired in the year the park was completed. The shop front, along with the Le Seeleur buildings next door, remains unused, despite a popular venue for locals – the park – on its doorstep..
That the Le Seeleur buildings remain empty is a scandal. They were gifted to the States, and the States have just sat on them, letting them decay, year after year. Now there is scaffolding on them, but that, as far as I am aware, is just to get them back to a safe state of repair. It is a scandal.
I walked up Don Street, along Burrard Street, along Bath Street, along Halkett Place – there is at least one empty shop front in each street, and some quite large, as well as empty office space – refurbished but vacant. There is not full occupancy.
I do not wish to sound a sour note to the story, but while the high street has no closed shops, stray from there, even along roads just branching off it, as visitors might, and the picture is not so rosy. The high street is a start; it must not be the end. Don't let us be lulled into a false sense of security, and rest on our laurels.