PLANS are in the pipeline to boost trade in Bradford city centre as the high street faces the economic blow of Covid-19. 

Many major retail names have announced store closures over the past few months as they’ve struggled to weather the storm of the pandemic. 

The Broadway shopping centre has fallen victim to a number of store closures, including Topshop, Quiz and Carphone Warehouse. Ann Summers also appears to have closed and Trespass will leave the centre in October. 

Frankie and Benny’s restaurant in The Leisure Exchange has permanently closed and mystery surrounds the future of the TJ Hughes store in the Kirkgate Shopping Centre, which has yet to re-open even though lockdown measures have eased.

On May 18, the retailer announced that as a registered essential retailer, it would be re-opening more of its stores, but Bradford was not on the list and does not appear on the store locator map on the TJ Hughes website.

There is now mounting speculation among traders that it has closed for good and when the Telegraph & Argus visited earlier this week, stock appeared to be have been removed.

The store opened to great fanfare last April and some traders have raised concern that a potential permanent closure would be a blow for the centre.

One trader in the market said: “It’s disappointing, very disappointing. 

“They took on a big space. I just find it astonishing that a business like that can open a shop on that scale and suddenly, within a year, look like they are struggling.”

Another trader said it would be a setback for the centre. “It’s so sad, they spent a lot of money doing that out. It’s the jobs, all the staff.

“It was a lovely store - I don’t think it’s anything to do with it being in the Kirkgate Centre.”

Chris Hardy, who runs a jewellers in the market, said: “It will be a blow for the centre. It’s an attractive store that does pull customers in to the centre. If it has gone, then I would say it puts others at risk of going as well. That’s another worry - it could be like dominoes falling.”

He added: “It will be sad if they have gone, they’ve not been in long. They almost certainly made a big investment to come there in the first place.”

The Telegraph & Argus made a number of attempts to seek clarification on the future of the store. 

Ian Ward, General Manager at The Broadway, said the pandemic had been a “monumental challenge”.

He said: “At The Broadway and across the sector we’re adapting how we operate to continue to thrive. We’re very aware that there will be further challenges and sadly, more retailers may suffer.

"Since March, a number of retailers have announced profit losses, staff have lost their jobs and many regional stores have ceased trading across the country. The Broadway has not been exempt from feeling the backlash of this.

 “We’re currently focussing on working with all retailers at The Broadway to build a strategy of how to move forward, adhere to government guidance and still allow shoppers to have a pleasurable experience when at the centre. 

“We’re continuing to hold discussions with new and exciting brands that want to bring its offering to the Bradford district, however as expected we’re navigating through new challenges and agreeing the best way forward.”

Bradford BID manager Jonny Noble added: “I don’t think anybody will be surprised to see these comings and goings in the retail sector at the moment.

“High Street shops everywhere were facing challenges from the growth of online shopping before the pandemic and the lockdown has seen every town and every city in the country – and, in fact, just about across the world – hit badly by the restrictions that prevented them trading.

"The pressure has been immense and it was inevitable that some businesses would be unable to withstand it and Bradford will see the impact of that the same as everywhere else.

“But the BID has been doing a lot of work to prepare the city centre for the post-lockdown recovery and we’re continuing to provide advice and guidance to help businesses get back on their feet, including the appointment of our new business engagement officer this week to provide face-to-face support in a direct and focussed manner.  

“We’re also launching a new loyalty scheme app promoting retail, hospitality and leisure discounts and offers as well as shopping and visitor trails to encourage people to support Bradford’s city centre economy.

"Shoppers are cautiously starting to return and we have seen that in the footfall measured on the BID’s six cameras, which has grown steadily by a few per cent each week since shops reopened on June 15, when it was almost double the first week of the lockdown.”

Mr Noble said footfall was also affected by the fact that so many people were still working from home and city centre offices were far less well occupied than normal, which had severely reduced lunchtime trade, in particular.

However, he said the picture was highly likely to improve further as a result of the measures introduced by the Chancellor in his economic update.

“The furlough payments made the difference between survival and disaster for many and the new job retention bonus scheme will be welcomed as a way to help keep staff in work as the recovery continues,” he said.

“By the end of January, businesses will have a clearer idea of their long-term prospects, especially in areas such as hospitality and leisure and the Chancellor’s cut in VAT on food, accommodation and attractions from 20 per cent to 5 per cent could have a big impact on protecting jobs and keeping restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, hotels and leisure attractions alive in Bradford city centre.

"The eating out discount scheme should also help to give people confidence and gradually encourage them to return. 

“Businesses need support from all of us if they’re going to survive and if people can do so safely, observing the proper social distancing rules, we would urge them to do all they can to keep Bradford’s economy alive while the pandemic plays itself out.” 

Suzanne Watson, President of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said of the measures: “It was good to hear recognition of the huge impact that the lockdown has had on the leisure and hospitality sectors, and measures to reduce VAT whilst encouraging consumers back into restaurants with half price meal vouchers may bring some footfall back to our city centre and district high streets.”