Two Galashiels town centre clothing stores will shut their doors for good this autumn, leaving their 10 staff facing an uncertain future.
The Dorothy Perkins and Burton branches in Channel Street will close on Friday, October 11, with their owner, Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, attributing a fall in profits to an increase in online retailing.
The closure of the stores, opened over a decade ago, has been described as “terribly sad, especially for the people who work there”.
Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “The high street is just completely different to what it was.
“We all complain about it, but if we all buy online then this is what happens – shops close.
“You can’t pay rates and wages if someone sits at home and their goods appear in a white van. There’s not a street in Galashiels that doesn’t see a delivery van at least once a day. If that’s what people want, then the high street will suffer.”
To counter that effect, Mr Aitchison believes an overhaul of what the town centre has to offer is needed.
“I can’t see what the solution is other than changing the town centre into a environmentally and family-friendly area and to create a safe place where people respect the streets and gardens, then people can start to enjoy coming to the town centre again,” he said.
“That would change both the look of the town and how we need to behave in it.
“We can’t have litter, chewing gum, bottles and litter lying about the place.
“People will then come to the town, enjoy it and see it as an attractive place to visit, stay and work.
“That’s the answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very sad to lose a traditional high street trader like Dorothy Perkins and Burton.”
Looking to what the future could hold for the two neighbouring shopfronts come October, adding to the eight units there already empty, he added: “They are going to be on the main road up to the tapestry building.
“That building is Gala’s big opportunity to improve the town centre, and people should be getting behind it.
“All the shops in the area around it will enjoy a ripple effect from visitors there.
“We have had one or two shops open recently of a completely different style, which is good.
“Going forward, we will hopefully attract more of that, and I’m working with various groups and people trying to work for the future of the high street.”
In 2017, the Galashiels outlets were briefly marketed by estate agents before the Department for Work and Pensions considered relocating its jobcentre plus there.
In May, Arcadia announced it was closing 23 stores across the UK with the loss of around 500 jobs.
The group’s Dorothy Perkins store in Hawick High Street is so far safe, however.
A group spokeswoman said: “We are constantly reviewing our store portfolio across the group, investing in flagship stores and increasing our brands’ digital presence.
“Our click-and-collect service across the brands is also proving a successful way of helping our customers collect their purchases at a location most convenient to them.
“We endeavour to offer current staff other employment options within the Arcadia Group.”
Galashiels councillor Andy Anderson echoed those sentiments, saying: “I am really disappointed to see that Burtons and Dorothy Perkins are closing. I believe the closure is more about the failings of the Arcadia Group and Philip Green rather than the performance of the shops in Galashiels.
“I have great sympathy with the staff losing their jobs and hope that they can find employment elsewhere.
“It is perhaps time that we had some radical rethink about the use of some of these large premises in Channel Street, turning some over to housing or perhaps extra care homes.”
Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, added: “It is really disappointing to lose any retail stores from the high street, and I feel for those employed who will be uncertain what their future is.
“I’m certain these closures are not any reflection on Galashiels or the Scottish Borders but are linked to the firm’s own issues and the trend to online.
“I’m entirely positive about Gala. When I was there recently, it was clear how much work is already in progress to regenerate the town, and I was particularly impressed by the range of independent shops and businesses in what is clearly the Borders’ leading retail destination.”
“I know from speaking to business owners that the Great Tapestry of Scotland is expected to be a significant boost and inspirational operations such as WhtNot are already establishing themselves. Scottish Borders Council is supporting a whole range of regeneration activity around Gala with Energise Gala and many local businesses who are working exceptionally hard to make Gala an ever-more vibrant place to live, work or visit.”