Monday, June 30, 2014
One of the oldest family-run and owned stores in Ipswich town centre is set to close, bringing an end to an era.
Up to two or three jobs are expected to be lost as furniture retailer Bretts of Ipswich Ltd shuts its Westgate Street store following a closing down sale which starts on Wednesday. The rest of the five staff working at the Westgate Street shop will transfer to its other, more modern, Relax store in the town’s Bramford Road where the rest of the retailer’s 12-strong workforce is employed and where the business continues to trade successfully.
Managing director Anthony Brett, who believes he is about the fourth or fifth generation to be involved in the business and is the last Brett remaining in the company, described the move from the store, which was bought by the Brett family in 1946, as sad but inevitable.
“It’s just more and more difficult to trade from the high street,” he said.
“It was just getting harder and harder.”
He added: “A lot of retailers are finding it harder to attract people into Ipswich town centre. I think it’s a general trend nationwide that town centres are struggling.”
In Ipswich, retail outside of the town centre had been encouraged, and not enough had been done to make it easier for people to get into town, he claimed.
“We opened Relax really because like everybody else we could see there was a change in culture. People were less willing to come into town,” he said.
“It’s slowly swung in favour of the other store, and it’s quite an old building. It requires quite a lot of upkeep. The business rates are disproportionately high in the high street.”
The business rates were “significantly higher” for the Westgate Street store compared to the Bramford Road one, he said.
In contrast, the Bramford store, which was launched about 12 years ago, had its own parking, he said, which suited customers better.
The furniture firm, which has roots going back about 125 years, sells a range of furniture and carpets, employs its own delivery and carpet fitters and prides itself on its traditional values and knowledgeable and helpful staff. The former family directors are now in their 70s and 80s, explained Mr Brett, and he was the last generation to be involved in the business.
“It’s just the whole shooting match really,” he said. “It’s a very unhappy situation to be in, but there’s a certain inevitability about it. Unfortunately I’m the only one in my family with an interest in the business.”
The closing down sale would continue until all the stock at the Westgate Street store was sold, and would feature some “absolutely crazy” bargains, he promised.
“The intention is to carry on. There has been a slow migration of business. Customers going into the town centre have just found it easier to drive into the car park at Relax and do business there,” he said.
“It’s the same old story wherever you look. There are always exceptions to it. High streets generally are struggling. People’s buying habits are changing.”
The Westgate Street store was a lovely old building with a frontage dating back 450 years, he added, but had sloping floors and nooks and crannies which made it difficult to operate a bulky goods operation.
“It’s tough. Two or three members of staff are losing their jobs, but there is continuity. There is no issue of orders not being looked after.”