Customers flock to shopping centre

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A SHOPPING centre is enjoying renewed success after a flagship store opened its doors.

Customer numbers rocketed by 15 per cent at Middleton Grange Shopping Centre in Hartlepool after BHS launched its department store at the end of January.

Its arrival, and a £3m programme of improvements made by Middleton Grange’s owners, The Premium Property Group (PPG) is believed to have contributed to the upturn.

PPG has improved the car parks, signage and the centre’s toilets and more improvements are planned later this year.

It comes as nationwide retail sales were down 0.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis in January, the second worst January since the survey started 17 years ago, says the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

But shopping centre manager Mark Rycraft said he is delighted the town has seen a rise in the number of customers at the centre.

He said: “We are delighted with the footfall figures. There were an additional 5,000 people through the centre for the day of the launch compared to the previous day and those increases held up through the weekend.”

Other retailers have expressed confidence in Middleton Grange by increasing the size of their stores including JD Sports which doubled its capacity to 4,300 sq ft in November and Brighthouse which expanded its store from 1,100sq ft to 4,100 sq ft.

Terms have also been agreed with Home Bargains to relocate to larger premises on the first floor (from 7,500 sq ft to 12,000 sq ft) and Sports Direct to relocate from its current 4,500 sq ft unit to a new 7,000 sq ft unit. Clintons and Thorntons are also improving their stores this month.

Mr Rycraft added: “We are always in dialogue with national retailers about taking space so having BHS here increases the appeal of Middleton Grange. I am sure that other national chains will be watching very closely to see how BHS performs and I want Middleton Grange and the people of Hartlepool to prove that we are a town to invest in.”

Independent retailer Billy Reid, who has run a cobblers and key cutting booth at the centre for 25 years, said: “This can only improve Middleton Grange and attract different customers who may not have visited for a while. As a small local business, we rely on the big boys to feed off their customers – that’s what it will mean for a lot of the smaller shops.”

The town bucked the national trend that saw BRC figures drop last month compared to January 2011, which saw a 2.3 per cent rise in sales.

The BRC said the decline was driven by a sharp slowdown in food sales, following the Christmas boost in December, but non-food sales were weak as well.