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Optimistic about the future of Penzance

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: January 02, 2014

  • Centre manager, James Pulford.

  • Alfred Smith's great granddaughter Sue and her husband Marcus Wilkinson outside the store. Emily Whitfield-Wicks

  • Dick Cliffe, chairman of Penzance Chamber of Commerce, pictured high above the town from where the Humphry Davy statue looks down the main street – Market Jew Street.

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PENZANCE may have lost more than two dozen shops and businesses in 2013 but, say the town's movers and shakers, it has a bright future.

The town's business leaders say they are optimistic about 2014 despite local historian Peter Waverly's finding in his letter to The Cornishman (see page 18) that the total number of business closures for 2013 was 25.

Mr Waverly concludes that "overall business optimism remains resilient in the Penzance area, although in reality the continuing high number of closures indicates that recovery is very weak".

That resilient "business optimism" is expressed by Dick Cliffe, chairman of the town's chamber of commerce.

He said: "There are plenty of reasons for confidence about Penzance. If the amount of scaffolding erected is a measure of investment then the outlook for Penzance is good.

"The town centre (Market Place) has seen long-empty units filled. St Michael's Bistro, long vacant, has changed hands and is being refurbished.

"The old tax office has been reborn as Pz360 and is close to being fully occupied. Work is due to start on refurbishing St John's Hall and the old Gasworks site in the spring.

"If Penzance's fortunes were entirely dependent upon a general uplift in the nation's economy then there would be good reason for caution, but it is not. Penzance has not been realising its potential.

"Just by 'punching its weight' in the competition for visitors and shoppers, Penzance businesses can prosper."

Mr Cliffe also says that if it goes through, making Penzance a Business Improvement District (BID) will provide a fighting fund of around £180,000 a year to promote Penzance, while Sainsbury's 106 funds will also help the town centre economy.

One of Penzance's ongoing success stories is the Wharfside shopping centre which continues to be fully occupied with retailers.

James Pulford, centre manager, said there had been a 9 per cent increase in footfall in the centre in 2013 compared to 2012.

"Though I do not have the official statistics, I believe that there can be only a small number of shopping centres in the UK which are in a similar position (fully occupied)," he said.

"The recession has meant a change in the shopping and holiday habits of the population and it is up to us to adapt to that.

"As ever with this part of the world, we are hoping for the weather of 2014 to be more akin to 2013 rather than 2012, but here at Wharfside we will endeavour to make a visit to Penzance memorable for locals and tourists alike."

Marcus Wilkinson, owner of Alfred Smith & Co and chairman of the Penzance Business Improvement District steering group, said: "The retail landscape is rapidly changing with many of the multiple retailers reducing their presence on traditional high streets and shifting their focus to a smaller number of physical outlets and a much greater emphasis on online sales.

"Traditionally, West Cornwall has lagged about 18 months behind the South East which is clearly the engine of economic growth at the moment.

"Nevertheless, there are anecdotal signs that business in Penzance is beginning to slowly recover, although it is fair to say that trade remains a challenge for many.

"The businesses that seem to be prospering are those that have the confidence to invest in the future and embrace the opportunities that online retailing can offer.

"I am increasingly encouraged that the business community will support the establishment of a BID which will have the resources to make a positive difference in our town."

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