The rise of online shopping is taking a heavy toll on the heart of Southend despite the approach of the festive season - but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Worryingly, empty shops are almost into double figures in Southend High Street, with eight large premises currently vacant.

With no sign of businesses willing to take them over, premises are falling into a state of disrepair and the target of vandals.


British Heart Foundation show Charity shopes are not immune from closure

However David Burch director of policy at Essex Chamber of Commerce is hopeful, and wants shop owners to do more to attract tenants.

He said: “Some of the problem is the size of some of the units on offer. They aren’t suitable for some businesses. Landlords should be asking if their properties are really the right size. Could they make them more attractive to business by reducing the size and making more units? I think so. Business rates are another very difficult factor for retailers but the council doesn’t have a lot of leeway on that so it’s something we are always lobbying about.”

Mr Burch is hopeful the council will help turn things around. He said: “The council is working hard to try to encourage interest for businesses to relocate to the High Street.


Empty Pound Store needs to get some new tenants

“There is no doubt online shopping is having an impact on retailers and they will have to think about the way they operate in future.

“Maybe shops will become more like showrooms with people buying online. If they haven’t got an internet offer now they need to look at it closely.”

Read more: Without Bid things would be worse agree retailers

The Southend Business Improvement District - known as Bid - has just been backed by 350 businesses for another five year term.

Bid has overseen a number of improvements in the town during its first term, including making the High Street more attractive with planters, hanging baskets, new bins and artwork on boarded up shops like BHS. Bid has employed street rangers to ensure public safety and to help visitors find their way around.


Even coffee shops are not safe

Bid’s initiatives have broadly welcomed, but they have failed to halt the High Street’s decline in the face of a rise in online shopping and it seems a more radical approach is needed to halt the steady decline in High Street retail outlets.

British Homes Stores (BHS) folded earlier this year and Primark pulled out of a bid to take the site over.

Signs the High Street’s plethora of coffee shops might be at capacity came with the closure of Cafe Mango, after just a few months of trading.

Shutters on the Morrisons local store remain closed and there is little sign of any interest in either the vacated post office or the British Heart Foundation charity store which sit at either end of the High Street.


Morrisons Local went bust and the shop stays boarded up

Southend Council wants to encourage more niche businesses into the town, something Bid hopes to also encourage in its new term during which it will invest £2.7million in the town.  One of Bid’s stated aims is to “try to get more premium brands in the town centre”.

Bid managers have held talks with Southend council officers to look at ways they can encourage this.  The not-for-profit organisation also plans to will run “high visibility marketing and promotional campaigns”.


The empty post office is an eyesore and a worry

And it aims to push for more economic capital into the BID zone in the shape of new businesses, property development, visitors, employees and students.