Last year saw major changes to Horsham town centre with the introduction of dozens of new retailers and the loss of some iconic shops.
National brands such as clothing retailers Jigsaw and Joules were welcomed to West Street along with Cotswold Outdoors and Sushi restaurant chain Kokoro.
New cafes Mangobean, Muffin Break and Glynde Place Espresso also joined the town and 2015 saw the long awaited opening of the country’s second combined John Lewis and Waitrose store.
Horsham also saw its fair share of shop closures, with some units still remaining empty. The town lost historic names such as HMV, ForFars, the Merrythought Restaurant, The Cloth Store and Costello’s.
The Waitrose store in Piries Place also shut up shop after 25 years of trading to make way for the new unit in Albion Way.
Despite the loss of these retailers 96 per cent of the town’s 350 plus shops were filled at the start of 2016, according to figures release by Horsham District Council.
The total shows a one per cent increase on last year’s filled units and is also four per cent above the South East average of 92 per cent.
The town was also ranked second in a top 10 ‘premium opportunities’ for retailers by location experts CACI back in November.
Gill Buchanan, chair of Horsham Unlimited, the town centre business partnership, and manager of the Swan Walk shopping centre, said: “2016 looks to be an exciting year for Horsham town centre following the great new arrivals in 2015.
“We have explained many times in the past that a town centre is like a living, breathing being which constantly evolves to satisfy market and customer trends. There are some new empty spaces in the town, an element due to the closure of the seasonal pop up activity that adds interest and vibrancy over Christmas and others are end of leases or business rationalisation on a national scale – such as the announced closure of Cargo.
‘‘Losses are sad for the regular customers to those particular businesses and especially their staff but in Horsham, unlike many other towns, the space is often occupied again very quickly.
“As far as we understand this is certainly the case at the moment with exciting extensions and investment to core business for Brock Taylor and The Company Hairdressing, Dark Star’s new bar opening in East Street, JoJo Maman Bebe in Carfax and the new major fashion store coming to Swan Walk this spring.
“All this and we are only two weeks into the new year - we do anticipate another strong performance for Horsham’s retail line up in 2016 offering our loyal and valued customers even more from their town.”
But concerns still remain around some of the town’s empty units. The future of the old Waitrose building is still unclear. Speaking to the County Times, Crickmay chartered surveyors, agents for the building, said: “We have interest in part and the landlord is looking at all opportunities to ensure the best use possible is found for the building, Piries Place and the town centre.”
The company is also responsible for the unit previously home to The Cloth Store.
A spokesman said Courtney Green Estate Agents, located next door, had agreed a deal for the unit.
Steven Greenfield, joint managing director of Courtney Green, said the company was looking to expand the business and planned on joining both buildings together.
He said: “We are very excited to be taking over the unit.
“There are around 20 people in the current building at the moment so we are giving ourselves some more space.
“We feel our business thrives in the high street and we want to be in the high street.
“We are just pleased to be expanding in a time where others are looking to get rid of their premises and go online.”
Question marks were also raised about the futures of both Ladbrokes and its neighbour Boots Opticians in West Street after signs went up above both stores.
A spokesman for Ladbrokes confirmed this week the store will not be closing.
However, Boots has announced plans to merge both its opticians stores in West Street, which would see the closure of the building next door to Rush Hairdressers. A spokesman said all staff and patients would be relocated to the other store, next to Wimpy.
Meanwhile the Phone Clinic, which was previously located next to Poundland, has taken over the empty unit previously home to Costello’s in the Carfax.
Horsham District Council’s Cabinet Member for the Local Economy, Gordon Lindsay (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley) said: “It’s great to see that our town centre is in such good economic shape as we enter 2016. Exciting new retail entrants, both recognised brand names and independent retailers, is what keeps our town centre vibrant and inviting to residents, shoppers and visitors, and goes far to support our growing local economy.
“We continue to enjoy one of the lowest unoccupied shop rates in the South East and I look forward to continued success throughout 2016.”