Fears are growing for the future of Hawick town centre as two more retailers prepare to close their doors and the number of for-sale signs there continues to grow.
Among the latest casualties of the hard times hitting High Street is hairdresser Harry Stoddart, now planning to give up cutting hair there and cut his losses instead.
Harry Stoddart, owner of Image Hairdressing Company, says he feels he has no choice but to move out after 35 years of trading because he has seen his custom halved in recent months, meaning that to continue “just isn’t viable anymore.”
Mr Stoddart cites the decline of footfall in the town centre and illegal parking in High Street since the withdrawal of traffic wardens as key factors in his thinking.
Another outlet preparing to close is the Uptown ladies’ fashion boutique in O’Connell Street, due to shut up shop next weekend.
The latest planned closures prompted Derick Tait, chairman of the Future Hawick group, to call on Scottish Borders Council to act in a “quick and radical” way to halt the decline.
He said: “The council rejected our call to cut the rates, which are killing businesses on the High Street, and came up with this plan to divide larger units into smaller ones.
“If they’re going to do that, they want to do it hellish quick. They need to act in a quick and radical way.”
Amid the doom and gloom, though, comes a ray of hope in the shape of an announcement this week that a new south of Scotland enterprise agency is to be established by the Scottish Government.
Hopes are high that the new agency will be supportive of moves to both promote town centre growth and extend the Borders Railway from Tweedbank to Hawick and Carlisle.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said: “I would expect this organisation to play a key role in promoting the views of local businesses on key infrastructure projects like the extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and on to Carlisle.
“A dedicated support agency has the potential to stimulate growth in the local economy, but more needs to be done to help struggling high streets in the Borders.”
Mr Stoddart agrees, saying that though any help on offer from the agency would probably come too late for his business, it would be welcomed by fellow High Street traders.
He said: “There has been a 50% drop in sales in the last year and very little profit. All I am doing is just covering costs.
“I am being forced into closing. I have no choice because I have no income to live on. I wish things would improve, but I am very close to giving up.
“I’ll give it to January or February, but the fact is there is just not the footfall in the town centre to continue after that.” Mr Stoddart said his long-term plan is to carry on serving his loyal customer base through home visits.
He added: “I’m 95% sure that I will cease trading because the situation is pretty grim.
“It is such a shame because I have really enjoyed all these years working for myself in the town centre, and I have regular and loyal customers, but I have to face the reality.”
Besides falling trade, Harry has also had to contend with vandals targeting his premises four times in the last six years.
In April last year, drunken vandals smashed an expensive glass window at his salon, and he was forced to work extra hours just to cover the cost of the excess on his insurance.
Image Hair is one of a number of town centre retail units up for sale as the face of the High Street continues to change.
No one was available for comment at Uptown, but a sign in the window says it is closing on Saturday, November 5.
Also on the market, after over 40 years’ trading, is stationer Deans and Simpson’s shop.
On sale at an asking price of £110,000 through Bannerman Burke Properties, it is described as a “busy and well-established stationer’s in the centre of Hawick”, with its sale blurb adding: “With potential for expansion, the current vendors have been trading successfully from the premises over 40 years and the sale is due to the retirement of the present owners.
“The premises and the business are being sold as a going concern.”
A further property for sale, with a guide price of £45,000, is McCulloch’s Seafood at No 29.