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Strada and Steamer Trading Cookshop close in Cambridge and Ecco Shoes will follow as high street challenges hit

Strada, in Trinity Street, Cambridge, has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell
Strada, in Trinity Street, Cambridge, has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell

An Italian restaurant and a cookshop have closed in Cambridge and a shoe shop is set to follow them as the tough trading environment for the high street hits the city.

Strada, which faced increased rents for its Trinity Street premises, and Steamer Trading Cookshop on Market Hill have shut their doors, and Ecco Shoes on Green Street is holding a closing down sale.

The closures come as the Cambridge Independent learned that footfall in December 2018 was down 4.9 per cent on the previous year.

Changes in consumer habits have been blamed for much of the high streets woes, with online competitors - who do not face the same overheads - along with high parking prices, congested city centres, years of austerity and Brexit all being cited as reasons for the challenging situation for retailers.

A note in the window at Strada read: "Following a comprehensive review, it is with regret that we have made the decision to close Strada.

"Closing this much loved restaurant has been an extremely difficult decision for us.

"However, an increasingly competitive market, with recent increases in rents and rates, have made it very difficult to operate profitably.

"We are incredibly grateful to the wonderful teams and loyal guests who have kept this restaurants going in a difficult trading environment.

"We appreciate that this will be a tough time for our team members and our immediate focus is to provide them with the support that they need."

The note in Strada's window. Picture: Keith Heppell
The note in Strada's window. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge BID CEO Ian Sandison said: "This week, we saw Steamer Trading on Market Hill and Strada on Trinity Street close in Cambridge and Ecco Shoes on Green Street both has closing down posters in its windows.

“So, given the recent poor trading reports from multiples such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Mothercare, the high street remains very tough.”

Mothercare shut its doors in The Grafton in mid-December as the baby and toddler specialist prepares to shut 60 of its 137 stores before June.

The British Retail Consortium-KPMG retail sales monitor for last month’s crucial festive trading season saw UK retail sales decrease by 0.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis from December 2017, when they had increased 0.6 per cent from the preceding year.

This is the worst December performance since 2008. Meanwhile, the online penetration rate increased from 29.1 per cent in December 2017 to 31.2 per cent last month.

The overall picture in Cambridge is also troubling.

Steamer Trading Cookshop in Cambridge has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steamer Trading Cookshop in Cambridge has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We haven’t collated all our data for December yet but the footfall data which we do have shows that footfall in Cambridge was down 4.9 per cent on the previous year, and was worse than the average for the region as well as the national picture,” Mr Sandison told the Cambridge Independent.

Data is compiled by Cambridge BID using footfall cameras positioned on Sidney Street, Fitzroy Street (at Waitrose), Regent Street, King’s Parade and Bridge Street.

However, the recently revamped Lion Yard fared rather better.

“We had an excellent Christmas,” Roger Allen, centre manager at Lion Yard Shopping Centre, told the Cambridge Independent. “The week commencing December 17 saw our highest-ever footfall at 376,000 – amazing footfall. Sales were good, possibly enhanced by the grotto in the central atrium, which attracted over 1,200 kids visiting Santa.”

Commenting on the picture nationally, KPMG's UK head of retail said: “Retailers experienced little festive cheer this year, with total sales in December delivering zero growth on last year. This comes despite some retailers desperately attempting to generate sales through slashed pricing, which has seemingly not been enough to encourage shoppers.

Steamer Trading Cookshop in Cambridge has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steamer Trading Cookshop in Cambridge has closed. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Growth in food did provide a glimmer of hope, being among the few categories to notice an uptick. However, the continued contrast in performance between the high street and online remained evident in December - albeit 2018 did also see a continued slowdown in online retail sales.

“The first months of 2019 will unlikely hold much improvement. As many retailers report their festive trading performance, the list of winners and losers will become clear, but winning means more than just improving sales. Retailers have to protect their margins in order to deliver a profitable festive season.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Squeezed consumers chose not to splash out this Christmas with retail sales growth stalling for the first time in 28 months. The worst December sales performance in ten years means a challenging start to 2019 for retailers, with Business Rates set to rise once again this year, and the threat of a No-Deal Brexit looming ever larger.

“The retail landscape is changing dramatically in the UK, while the trading environment remains tough. Retailers are facing up this challenge but are having to wrestle with mounting costs from a succession of government policies – from the Apprenticeship Levy, to higher wage costs, to rising business rates.

Ecco Shoes in Green Street is closing. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ecco Shoes in Green Street is closing. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Retail makes up five per cent of the economy, yet pays 10 per cent of all business taxes and 25 per cent of all business rates. This is neither fair nor sustainable. The Government should urgently look into reforming the broken business rates system and champion the future of retail in the UK.”

The food and drink sector fared rather better, with Jon Woolven, strategy and innovation director at IGD, saying: “Despite the challenges elsewhere in retail, the grocery sector enjoyed a positive December, with an increase in sales on the previous year broadly in line with inflation.

“The desire to indulge over Christmas prevailed once more and seven in ten shoppers said they spent extra on higher quality food last month.

“However, that mood appears fragile with only 20 per cent of shoppers expecting to be better off financially over the next 12 months, the lowest level of confidence by this measure since June 2017.”

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