TRADERS across Accrington town centre say they are struggling to remain afloat, in spite of a major retailer’s decision to stay put.

Accrington is one of the most recession-hit town centres in the area, with approximately 25per cent of its shops empty.

When WH Smith announced it was pulling out of the town’s Arndale Centre, local leaders feared for the future.

However, in spite of a deal being struck between WH Smith and the shopping centre regarding rents, smaller retailers say they expect further closures.

Business owners said that while profits were going down, costs are going up.

Julie O’Hara, owner of Barbara Kay’s bout-ique, in Whalley Road, said that despite a loyal customer base, she has wondered if she will still be around next year.

She said: “Luckily we do have loyal people who come to us from all over. However, this last was the first Chr-istmas I wondered if I would still be here next year. There isn’t much to bring people in. The small business rate relief is also going. That will not help.”

Her manageress Julie James added: “Many people who haven’t been here in a while say they can’t believe the number of empty shops. It is off putting.

“Luckily, many wedding shops special order shoes from us, so we stay afloat.”

Paula Grime, owner of neigh-bouring shop Pretty Woman, said: “Trade is down, footfall is down. No-one comes to Accy any more. It’s just a lot of empty shops and yet more charity shops. When a store closes, it has a knock-on effect on everyone else.”

However, some stores were seeing a boost. Angela Spencer, manager at the recently-opened Barnardo’s, in the Arndale Centre, said: “We are really busy and we think the centre is very well managed. However, I think there could be more in the way of spec- ial deals offered to tempt more new traders.”

Some business owners, like Riz Vannatha, at Broadway News, said they were actively thinking of shutting up shop.

He said: “We are thinking about leaving because of the rent. It’s a small town and there are not enough draws to bring people in, but overheads are high. Rent is £29,000, plus VAT. Rates are £10,000. It’s crippling.”

Thomas Robertson, at Robert-son’s Reef and Reptile, in Wh-alley Road, said: “It’s a dying town and I’m reconsidering ren-ewing my lease. Rents and rates are too high and there’s no help for businesses.

“The rates – ours are £600 a month – are kill-ing us. Rent is £12,000 a year. You do wonder if it’s best to go. I love the business, but I won’t go into debt over it.”

Abbey Street Shopp-ing Centre owner Rohni Vij said: “The town is going down fast. There are far too many char-ity shops and not en- ough help for businesses. It costs £13-£14,000 in rates, and rent is £30,000 a year.”

Hyndburn Council deputy leader Clare Pritchard said the council was dedicated to listen-ing to independent traders. She said: “This is the whole reason we have the Accrington Town Team meetings. We are more than happy for independent traders to come along. Any ideas they would like to propose to help the town centre will be listened to.”

The next Accrington Town Team meeting is at 6pm on Thursday, May 26, at Scaitcliffe House. Call 01254 388111.