A CORNERSTONE of Sheffield’s high street, and precious jobs, are to go. But what does the closure of TJ Hughes mean for its end of the city? Ellen Beardmore reports
LANDMARK retailer TJ Hughes could be reborn as part of a shift in Sheffield’s main city centre shopping area. The popular discount shop is to shut its site at the junction of High Street and Arundel Gate in November – with more than 60 workers set to lose their jobs.
Shoppers, employees and city leaders hope bosses will be able to stay in the city and The Moor, soon to be home to the markets amid multi-million pound regeneration, has been suggested as the most likely place for a new shop.
But what this means for the multi-storey site left behind, and the part of town it dominates, is still unclear.
TJ Hughes bosses say they are being ‘forced’ out by landlord Standard Life because it wants to redevelop the building – a plan which has not yet been confirmed.
Simon Ogden, head of city regeneration at Sheffield Council, said: “If the unit wasn’t filled then that would be a blow, because the Castle Square area did get very run down about 10 years ago and we worked very hard to revive it and to improve the environment and it has been trading very successfully in recent years.
“If the shop is being redeveloped then it’s not neccessarily a blow to the area.
“Providing TJ Hughes get fixed up eventually too with premises that are as big as they need then this may turn out to have a positive outcome.
“In general, the city centre masterplan envisages concentrating future shopping in a more tight area, from High Street down to The Moor.
“That’s where the markets are moving to next year, so most of the opportunites that exist for alternative premises for TJ Hughes are going to be in that area.”
The council’s 2008 masterplan examines how the concept of one long shopping street through Sheffield works less well than it used to and encourages a core area of retailers.
Work has begun on The Moor, with the council and Scottish Widows on site. In about 18 months the markets and the initial phase of units is expected to open.
And as the markets make the historic move across the city, so new uses to re-energise the Castlegate area will be considered as a ‘high priority’, said Mr Ogden. although it is not neccessarily to stay as a shopping area.
Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said there was a ‘degree of uncertainty’ about TJ Hughes’ move and whether the building would be redeveloped.
He welcomed ‘investment’ on The Moor and elsewhere but added: “I am worried about the other end of the city and we probably will need to think very carefully about what we do with it.
“It will need a number of things to fall into place.”
There is also a fear of a chain reaction of retailers following other shops in moving across the city centre..
Mr Wright added: “Everybody could want to go to The Moor and we can’t blame businesses for that, because they have to survive.
“But against that, we’ve got to think from a city point of view what does it mean?
“It could be a great thing in terms of the whole city centre and I am welcoming the investment that’s going on.”
Standard Life has declined to comment on its plans, although there is much speculation about potential new occupiers.
Only two things are confirmed, that job losses are a massive blow, and that city leaders do want TJ Hughes to keep its presence in the city
The Liverpool-based firm insists it wants to retain a site here, by hopefully opening a smaller shop soon and a larger, full-size one next year.
Mr Ogden said: “We value TJ Hughes considerably as a key part of the shopping offer in the city centre.
“They bring something different, and we also value them for the number of jobs they employ.
“We were aware they were under pressure from their landlord, but it is not something we’ve been able to intervene in.
“We have put them in touch with other premises that are available now or in the pipeline.
“We’ve done our best to put them in touch with people and understand there have been some fruitful discussions.”
Of the 109 staff at TJ Hughes, it is hoped that 40 will be saved by a smaller store, and more will be able to reapply for jobs in future.
Union USDAW, which represents a handful of workers who had their jobs saved only last year, hopes an alternative site is found.
Mr Wright added: “On the jobs side nobody is going to pretend this is great news for the city.
“But they are trying to continue with a store, they’re not abandoning it, and the site could be redeveloped.
“We’ve got to hope that this does come off.”
New chapter in a long history of 50 High Street
A FASCINATING history will always be stocked at number 50 High Street.
The latest twist – the loss of current tenant TJ Hughes, and the possibility of the building being redeveloped by landlords Standard Life as Sheffield undergoes major regeneration – is but a chapter in a long line of changes to the unit.
The shop started life as a small baby linens and ladies’ outfitters, at number 39 High Street.
Thought to have opened on June 19, 1875, the shop was family-owned by John Walsh, and it grew into a large department store, selling all kinds of items, from millinery to stationery and more.
But during World War Two the premises on High Street was destroyed in an air raid bombing in December 1940.
Temporary stores elsewhere in Sheffield were used during the conflict and Harrods acquired the building as part of an offer for the company in 1946.
The shop on High Street was rebuilt and renamed Walsh’s.
In the 1970s House of Fraser took over and the unit changed identities again.
It was called Rackhams Sheffield during the decade and then changed to House of Fraser in the 1980s.
But after the opening of the Meadowhall House of Fraser moved out of town.
And so the building came to be occupied by Liverpool-based discount retailer TJ Hughes.
Bosses say the store has been there for 15 years.
In that time it has built up a loyal following of customers.
Last summer the firm went into administration after losing £10m the previous year – putting 4,000 jobs at risk nationwide.
However, the Sheffield store was one of just a handful to be rescued.
The Sheffield store was sold to Lewis’s Home Retail along with three other branches in Liverpool, Eastbourne and Glasgow. Now TJ Hughes is set to close at the site on November 17 this year.
Readers’ dismay at shop’s demise
WE want TJ Hughes to stay.
That’s the verdict from shocked shoppers who showed bags of support for the discount retailer, which has been in Sheffield for around 15 years.
They told Rachel Dixon how they often visit the shop and how they want it to remain part of the city centre.
It is hoped TJ Hughes will relocate to a smaller city centre unit by the time its landmark building on the corner of High Street and Arundel Gate closes on November 17.
A bigger, full-size store is then sought to open next year.
Diane Maitland, aged 47, said: “It is a real shame if it has to close.
“I’m not happy if it goes because you can get some really good stuff there.”
June Teather, 62, added: “It’s a nice shop, you can get everything you want there, some great bargains and I like the cafe too – what a shame.”
Tim Owen, 50, said: “TJ Hughes is great to use at Christmas. And if another Sheffield shop closed that would be a real shame.”
Rachael Teather, 38, said: “It is going to be sad for the city centre if TJ Hughes has to leave.”
Bosses at TJ Hughes say there are being forced out because landlord Standard Life wants to redevelop the unit and will not renew the lease.
Standard Life has declined to comment on any plans.
Tracy Wieteska, 47, of Intake, said: “I always thought the shop did well.
“I hope it doesn’t move to Meadowhall as that would be an absolute loss.
“They will probably replace it with something stupid like another bank.”