New strategy needed to return Chapel Walk to its former glory, say Sheffield business owners

Chapel Walk today and in 1979.
Chapel Walk today and in 1979.
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Chapel Walk was once a bustling shopping street, attracting people from all over Sheffield to the city centre.

Today there are still several successful independent businesses trading between Fargate and Norfolk Street.

Geoff Ward, co-owner of Feast.

Geoff Ward, co-owner of Feast.

But many of the shop units are empty, and it is not uncommon for new tenants to last six months or less.

And this week the appearance of scaffold over half the street has raised concerns about a drop in trade during the busy Christmas period.

Geoff Ward is co-owner of sandwich shop Feast, which at 10 years in business is one of the oldest names in Chapel Walk.

He said there were four different landlords but 'no cohesive strategy as to what we are doing with this street' - and it would be a different story in a city such as Leeds.

A number of shops are empty.

A number of shops are empty.

Mr Ward said there was a lack of identity, citing the closed sweet shop opposite Feast that has also recently sold belts and been a fish foot spa.

"I would envisage it being independent Sheffield retailers who have got something to offer," he said.

Mr Ward said areas such as Devonshire Street and Sharrow Vale Road were home to these kind of firms - but high rents and business rates in Chapel Walk meant they stayed away from Fargate.

"They should be in here," he added.

Carl Dunne of Cards & Gifts

Carl Dunne of Cards & Gifts

And although the appearance of scaffold - relating to a student flat development - was not the main issue, Mr Ward said it would not help in the short term.

"We have been here for 10 years so we are more of a destination. But something like this doesn't help us attract new customers," he added.

One of the newer names in Chapel Walk is Cards & Gifts, which opened four months ago.

Already owner Carl Dunne says he has noticed a lack of interest from the city council. And the building work has further increased his worry.

Scaffolding went up last week.

Scaffolding went up last week.

"They are going to put us out of business," he said.

"At the moment trade is about 20 per cent down. We are going into the busy time of the year.

"People look and think it's derelict - I wouldn't want to come down here."

Mr Dunne said he had no prior notice of the scaffold going up. He has asked the council to put up an 'open for business' banner at either end of Chapel Walk to try to keep customers coming through.

He also said he had been told the large metal signs at either end of Chapel Walk were due to be taken down - although this has not been confirmed by the council.

Joy Short, of next door Cookshop Clearance Co, is also worried.

Joy Short of Cookshop Clearance Co.

Joy Short of Cookshop Clearance Co.

She said her husband Barry, the business owner, was not able to get to the shop until 12.30pm on the Sunday the scaffold went up - two-and-a-half hours after he should have opened.

"We are going to apply to the council for a reduction in rates," she added.

"They are less here than High Street but they are still quite high."

Traders say they have been told the work will continue for 18 months.

"If it's that long it will decrease everyone's business," said Mrs Short.

Other traders also raised concerns about safety due to the darkness of the walk - although a light has now been put up - and said security cameras could be blocked off by the scaffold.

The council's cabinet member for business and investment Mazher Iqbal said: “We already have a number of successful businesses in Chapel Walk, and of course we want it to be a thriving shopping street with independent retailers and a great thoroughfare from Fargate to our theatre district, Tudor Square and to Sheffield Hallam University.

“The developer of Fargate House requires scaffold to safely convert the building into flats.

"This will create some disruption to Chapel Walk and Fargate but we will continue to work with them and businesses to reduce this as much as possible.

“At our request, the developers sent a letter to all nearby businesses to let them know about the planned work and have assured us that they will put up temporary signage and lighting to state that Chapel Walk is still open for business.”

“There are some excellent shops in Chapel Walk offering food, clothes, shoes and gifts amongst others. With the Sheffield BID we continue to work with businesses and landlords to try to attract new retailers and improve footfall including dressing empty shops and removing graffiti.”