Mary Queen of Shops is concerned about empty stores in Rugby - but is impressed by town shopkeeper

editorial image

RUGBY has received a mixed verdict in a major report written by TV retail expert Mary Portas.

The so-called Queen of Shops has praised one of the town’s shopkeepers, whom she called a ‘champion of change’ - but is concerned about the appearance of the town centre.

She visited the town in June, having been asked by the government to investigate the state of the nation’s town centres.

In her report, published this week, Ms Portas writes: “When key high street buildings are in a state of disrepair or lifelessness, they can destroy the spirit and potential of the town.

“I saw this for myself in Rugby, where a key period property in the middle of town was left empty and was a real blight on the rest of the high street.”

But she also writes of “fabulous people” she has met on her travels, stating: “I remember being impressed by the owner of an interiors shop in Rugby.”

She described the person in question as an example of “charismatic, local people” who, “if empowered to do so, inevitably lead the charge for change.”

The report identifies neither the shopkeeper nor the empty building. Candidates for the latter include the former premises of Next and Charles Ager.

To solve the problem, Ms Portas believes banks - one of which owns the building - “should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them”.

But the report itself has received a mixed verdict from Robin Richter, managing director of town centre management firm Rugby First. He said: “She could have been bold and brave, but wasn’t.

“She’s obviously picked up quite a lot from what we told her on her visit. I agree with her about the banks and her recommendation that councils should have some say over the rates they charge. But she’s not done anywhere near enough on out-of-town shopping - it’s currently an unequal playing field.”

Mr Richter that he is optimistic about the town. He said: “Towns the size of Rugby will have difficulty attracting national chains and keeing them.

“Quality independent retailers are the future - and we’ll see a big change within five years.”