Another blow for Plymouth's retail centre as sports shop pulls out
TROUBLED retailer JJB Sports is to shut its city centre store.
The closure is yet another blow for lower New George Street which is now being seen as creating a "barrier" of empty shops.
Woolworths, Officers Club, Game, Hawkins Bazaar, Derrys, TJ Hughes and Nectar are just some of the casualties along what was once the city's most bustling shopping stretch.
JJB will join them next Tuesday – or sooner if it runs out of stock. Twelve jobs will be lost.
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Store manager Jon Evans told The Herald: "We are at the wrong end of town."
City centre manager Clint Jones said losing JJB meant there was now a "chunk" of units sitting empty and creating "a bit of a barrier".
But he stressed the rest of the city centre was relatively healthy, with a vacancy rate of just 11 per cent, below the 11.6 per cent national average.
And he stressed stores were coming in, with a retailer eyeing part of the vacant Woolworths site, and Shoe Zone relocating to the empty Currys unit.
Meanwhile the rest of Plymouth continues to attract big names, with computer giant Apple among retailers arriving at Drake Circus Shopping Centre and a spate of restaurants gravitating to the Royal William Yard.
"Even around the West End (of the city centre) the vast majority are let," Mr Jones said.
And Ray Robins, chairman of the Market Traders' Association and Cornwall Street Shopkeepers Association, insisted Cornwall Street remained buoyant and Plymouth City Market, the pannier market, remained about "85 per cent full".
But he said JJB's closure was "A big blow for Plymouth."
JJB workers were told the branch was doomed last week but only yesterday put out "closing down" signs and slashed prices by 50 per cent.
Store manager Mr Evans added that staff numbers had "dwindled" from a peak of 40 to just a dozen.
"Me and my team will be made redundant and have to find other jobs," he said.
But he was upbeat about their chances and added: "If you want to get a job you'll get one."
The closure comes a year after loss-making JJB shut about 30 stores when it entered a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).
The firm is still up for sale but this week rival JD Sports Fashion pulled out of the running to buy it.
A JJB spokesman said that while Plymouth's store has survived an initial wave of closures it had now been decided to shut more.
Administrators KPMG has been appointed to sell JJB and has been in talks with several parties, including private equity groups.
Mike Ashley's rival Sports Direct Group is now thought to be the front-runner to take over the remaining JJB empire.