BROCKENHURST’S village centre has been dealt a blow with the news it is losing two popular shops as the future of the post office also remains in doubt.
The Sainsbury’s store and the nearby bakery CJs have confirmed they are leaving although the reasons are not thought to be related.
CJs owners Susan Czajkowski and Cheryl Hughes said they refused to sign a new lease offered by their landlords, while Sainsbury’s said its decision was based “on a range of factors”.
Speaking to the A&T, Susan said they were “hugely disappointed” to be going. Cheryl added. “Now we have to find new jobs because we have to pay our bills. It’s just the way it’s been done is totally wrong.”
They said they have been allowed to remain until 15th September, when they will have to vacate the premises they have operated from for the past 10 years. It may result in them having to sell their business which they have run for more than three decades.
The pair explained they declined to sign a new lease offered them by their landlords, Sarah and Andy Codd, as they found the terms “unreasonable”.
While it was at the same rate, it featured no break clauses, was for 10 years, and included a clause they pay for repairs to the building – which they think could be costly.
“No small business would sign it,” Cheryl said. “It was obvious they wanted us to go so they could bring someone else in.”
However, Mr and Mrs Codd defended themselves, telling the A&T in a statement: “We acted in good faith and there was never any deliberate intention of getting rid of Cheryl and Susan.
“We bought the shop and immediately had a new lease agreement drawn up, as advised by our solicitor, to offer Cheryl and Susan. It was an updated version of their existing lease which was also a fully repairing lease for 10 years.
“They chose to refuse the lease and asked us if instead we would consider giving them a two-and-a-half month extension, as they were due to vacate the shop at the end of June. So we went back to our solicitor, at yet more expense, and had another lease drawn up which they agreed to.
“In the meantime we found another local couple who were happy and willing to take on the long lease.”
They added: “After this Cheryl approached us to ask if there would be any negotiation on the original lease, but by this time we had agreed to the other couple. They look forward to opening an exciting new shop later in the year.”
Meanwhile, the A&T understands the Sainsbury’s store will leave its site from mid-October. A company spokesman would not confirm the departure date but said: “Our Brookley Road store will be closing later this year.
“We understand this will be an unsettling time for those affected, and colleagues have been offered the opportunity to redeploy to other roles in the area.”
The decision had been based on a “range of factors” she said, and Sainsbury’s regularly reviewed its estate. There were no plans to relocate the store.
The chairman of the Brockenhurst Business Association, Denis Dooley, said they were “very disappointed”.
He added: “Over the years we have been blessed with a fantastic array of independent local stores, a very popular high street and few empty shops.
“As a volunteer organisation we sadly cannot become involved with individual business plans but we are doing everything we can to support our members.
“Additionally we are working day in day out to improve footfall in the village, explore ways to improve the high street and seek new businesses to fill the empty stores.”
Also downcast over the losses was Brockenhurst Parish Council chairman Cllr Pete Wales.
“The village is a vibrant place to shop for locals and the many visiting tourists but, as seen across the country, the high street is a difficult place to trade,” he said.
David Bennett, a member of Brockenhurst Village Trust, said: “Trade in Brockenhurst is seasonal, no doubt about that, but it is also a successful and thriving village – so losing two contributory outlets at the same time as the post office closing is bad luck.
“A lot of hard work will have to go into making sure those stores are replaced.”
Disappointment was shared by locals on the street. One said they would “hugely miss” the shops, while another added: “It’s a real shame they are going.”
One woman said losing the post office would be a “crushing blow”, adding: “I don’t really know if Brockenhurst needs two supermarkets, to be honest, but the post office will be very much missed.”
As reported in the A&T, Elizabeth Kernaghan was appointed as postmistress last year but the 27-year-old has now resigned. Despite revamping the premises she struggled to make it viable.
Over the past few months the parish council has repeatedly stressed how keen it is to see the post office remain in some form – a sentiment shared by site owner Julia Lobley. However, despite plenty of interest, so far no one has agreed to take it over.
This week Cllr Wales said the parish council had not given up hope of saving it.
“Many people rely on post office services but unfortunately the current business model is not financially viable, as shown with the loss of other local post offices,” Cllr Wales added.
“We are currently assessing last week’s news, to increase rural postmasters’ pay and processing fees as part of the government-backed pay review.
“In the meanwhile, the parish council, along with other Brockenhurst organisations, is looking at various options to find a way to attract new businesses to the village and continue our tradition of a busy high street.”
However on Wednesday a spokeswoman for Post Office Ltd revealed: “We have an interested party. Talks are at an early stage.”
She added: “We can confirm that Brockenhurst post office is due to close temporarily on Thursday 15th August at 5.30pm following the resignation of the operator and the withdrawal of the premises, which we do not own, for post office use.
“We understand how important a post office is to a community and we would like to reassure customers that we are working hard to restore a post office in that area.
“In the meantime alternative branches in the area include Pilley and Lyndhurst. Consultation also ends today on reopening a branch at nearby Sway.”