Jersey needs to reclaim its high street, with locally owned stores serving the particular needs of islanders, according to one high-profile retailer.
Gerald Voisin, owner of Voisins, made the call following the collapse of UK retailer Arcadia, which operates three stores and two concessions in Jersey, including one in his department store.
The owner of Topshop, Top Man, Burton and Dorothy Perkins went into administration on Monday evening, threatening up to 13,000 jobs nationwide.
The stores and concessions - Miss Selfridge in Voisins and Wallis in De Gruchy - are likely to stay open over Christmas but their ultimate fate is unknown at this stage.
Mr Voisin, whose family business was founded in 1837, says that Jersey needs to remember the St. Helier of the 60s and 70s, when most stores were locally owned. Returning to that model could help save the high street, he argued.
Pictured: Briggs of Jersey next to Maison Le Riche in King Street. (Société Jersiaise)
“I can’t remember there being so many empty shops on King Street; my worry is who is going to occupy them,” he said.
“Not that long ago, the streets were full of Jersey-owned stores - Briggs, Noel & Porter, Lauren’s, Beghins and Le Poidevin’s, to name a few.
“I want to see a return to what town looked like at that time, with lots of Jersey-owned stores which were in tune with the local consumer, but they became squeezed out by UK retailers who could afford to pay higher rents."
Pictured: Noel & Porter, on the corner of King Street and Don Street, which was knocked down to make way for the current building, which used to house BhS. (Société Jersiaise)
He continued: “There needs to be a repopulation of our streets by local stores providing a vibrant retail offering tailored to the Jersey market. Rents are coming down, which could prompt local businesses to step-up.
“Worryingly, UK online retailers are now advertising locally on the radio and through targeted Facebook posts to make money from Jersey. And, of course, the knock-on effect is that the Government is missing out on GST on anything valued below the de minimis level.
“Christmas will, of course, be exceptionally tough this year, which is even more reason why we should do what we can to take back control of our retail offering.”
Deputy Kirsten Morel, who will become an Assistant Minister for Economic Development, most likely next week when his Scrutiny duties are completed, commented: “I agree with Gerald Voisin and it is an opportunity for the Government to encourage islanders to move into retail as entrepreneurs, showing the imagination and enthusiasm to make St. Helier a vibrant place that people want to visit."
Pictured: Local photographer Richard Whinnerah ran a photographic store at 17 King Street in the 50s and 60s. (Société Jersiaise)
He added: “The high cost of rent is obviously an obstacle but I understand landlords are responding when properties become available or leases end.
“It is the role of government to help through training or lowering the barriers so that people can take the leap into retail. That could be providing financial help to encourage innovation - not just in what is sold but how things are sold. The environment and the experience are key today.
“Of course, this Christmas is an immediate concern for retailers, and the Government needs to do everything it can to encourage people to travel into the town centre, such as amending parking charges, as happened earlier in the pandemic.”
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