Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (2024)

Traders say a shopping centre's demolition has taken customers away from their street and is harming their businesses.

Council leaders say they business owners facing the fledgling Stockton urban park and waterfront plaza will occupy a "prime position" as it opens up. But people making a living on Finkle Street are concerned how they will manage in the meantime, with a struggle to attract people while the regeneration work is going on.

Claire Church, owner of Remember Me Tea Rooms for 10 years, told how business already hit by Covid had dwindled again as shops and Barclays Bank moved from the Castlegate Shopping Centre, which is currently being knocked down, to Wellington Square. She said: "Our trade's halved. We used to be packed out all the time.

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"We've gone back to day one. It feels like you're going back, you're not growing or anything," she said of her first business, having worked with Gregg's and Warburtons.

"We get our regulars coming back but there's no footfall now. You go over to Wellington Square and the fountains and it's thriving, but they tend to stay over there.

"People thought we were shut. When you look down the street it doesn't look like everything's open." The misconception drove Claire to post a message on social media assuring people they were still trading.

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (1)

The drop in custom inevitably took its toll: "We're literally just paying the bills and paying the staff. There's nothing left at the end of the month to make any repairs or get any extra income to try to entice people to come in a bit more.

"We're just hoping we can get through this next couple of years," she said. Like other traders, she referred to problems with dust and fumes from generators, as well as parking and public transport issues.

"I know they're trying to improve the town. I know when it's all knocked down and complete it will look nice and we'll probably get some trade.

"It's just the struggling we have to do in between. Your trade halves and you can't promote it because you can't afford it."

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (2)

Sopee Harris, who owns the Tuk Tuk Thai cafe and takeaway, has been open on Finkle Street for a matter of weeks. She said: "It's quiet. There's not many people walking around here. Good days sometimes, but lots of bad days.

"This place is very nice but we need some more people to know I'm here and we need support. It's a bit slow because everything's expensive and people are scared of spending money.

"It might be good when they're all finished. When it's all done I think it might be good, it might be better. It'll take quite a long time to finish that. It's quite hard."

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (3)

Angela Rogers, 63, owns the flea market which opens Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays selling goods from collectables, antiques, toys, books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl to cameras and clothes, said: "It's having a hell of an effect. It's knocked everything out of sync.

"It's ever since they started it, four or five months ago, and shut all the shops. They've moved all of those existing shops that were inside to Wellington Square.

"So we're out of it all. There's nobody up our end of the market. We've lost stallholders.

"Before they started on the development we had a steady flow through there. Now there's so few through the yard.

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (4)

"I think as soon as it's all finished, fine. It'll open it up and it's great. But the three years of it sorting out, we may not even survive those three years."

Traders spoke of the loss of businesses and jobs, and expressed mixed views about the demolition of Castlegate, with some saying people would miss shopping under cover in the "functional" building. Nigel Jamison, 60, who has been on the market for 30 years, said: "It's definitely cost us a hell of a lot in passing trade. We've just been left to it."

Ann Ford, 55, said: "It's very slow. The footfall's gone drastically since everything moved to Wellington Square. We're seeing a decline in the last three months.

"This morning we didn't really have anybody in until 10.30, where before we'd have people coming in first thing. The closer this (the demolition) gets to here, it's going to get worse for all of us."

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (5)

Councillor Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for regeneration, said in response to the concerns: "We have a fine record of supporting businesses and liaising with businesses. We have a team on the ground.

"Clearly it's a big development, we're knocking down a major building and we're conscious of everything that brings with it, and I think business survival's always key.

"I think it's about the council continuing to do all we can in terms of business engagement, to make sure we can do everything we can.

"We have responsibilities around signage and business engagement which we'll live up to. We like to do all we can to support them." He added they regularly spoke with contractors on other issues raised.

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (6)

Council chief executive Mike Greene said: "It's about managing that on an interim basis. Those businesses, they'll have prime position.

"This will be nationally significant, what we're delivering here, and the footfall it will drive in those businesses opening out on to the area, will be transformational. There's disruption when you do these things but the long-term benefit will be unbelievable.

"This row will be looking out on to the new development and open river front. As that develops businesses will start to really benefit along Finkle Street."

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Iain Robinson, assistant director of town centres development, said: "I think in practical terms what we can do is put signage up pointing out that businesses remain open on Finkle Street. We'll continually make sure that we highlight the fact that those businesses are open.

"I think it's an unfortunate consequence of unavoidable disruption when you do redevelopment of this scale. We have a dialogue with them.

"We have a track record of working very closely with businesses and we'll continue to do everything we can to support them through a disruptive period which we absolutely acknowledge."

Responding to worries about the demolition moving closer to the businesses, he said: "There's no requirement for anyone to shut down. It will inevitably be noisy for a period of time but it ought not to prevent anyone accessing and using the businesses down there. There's a conversation we need to have with them as we get closer to the time around how we manage that day-to-day."

Street traders' battle to make it through shopping centre demolition (2024)

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