Waitrose’s closure is another nail in town centre’s coffin

Another nail in the coffin of Croydon as a retail centre will be hammered in place tomorrow, with the closure of the Waitrose supermarket on George Street.

Sad and desolate: Waitrose, George Street, where shelves have not been re-stocked ahead of closure tomorrow

The closure was announced by the groceries arm of the John Lewis Partnership in August. Around 70 staff are affected by the closure, who the company said would be offered redeployment at other stores – Waitrose at Sanderstead remains in business, for instance – retraining or redundancy.

Following on the various closures in the town centre by those businesses that did not survive the covid lockdowns, the closing of this store will leave a large vacant plot just along from East Croydon Station, on one of the borough’s busiest of thoroughfares.

Following the closure announcement, many loyal readers remarked how odd the decision to close seemed, given the proliferation of residential tower blocks soaring into the sky around East Croydon, full of exactly the kind of thrusting young professionals in “executive apartments” who might seem the perfect demographic for Waitrose’s offer.

Waitrose’s closure follows Wetherspoons closing two of its larger boozers over the summer, one on the High Street, one in South Croydon, with no new tenants having moved in. Brexit, more than even covid, has been blamed for the pub chain’s difficulties.

There has been no indication of any business moving in to the Waitrose site on George Street.

The closure of the large store puts yet another gaping hole in Croydon Council’s policy of regenerating the dilapidated and run-down town centre, with Mayor Jason Perry gormlessly still expressing a desire to deal with the same Westfield developers who have broken every promise made to Croydon over the past decade.

Waitrose said, in announcing the closure back in August, “We have found trading challenging here in the last few years and, despite the best efforts of Partners, we have not been able to find a way to make the shop profitable in the long-term.”

Closing down: Waitrose will leave a gaping hole on George Street

The George Street closure marks the complete exiting of central Croydon by John Lewis. They closed their At Home store on Purley Way in 2020.

All suggestions of John Lewis and Waitrose becoming anchor tenants, in the old Allders building, as part of the Westfield redevelopment of the town centre, are now long abandoned.

Waitrose have traded on George Street since around 2009, taking over the site from what had previously been a Safeway supermarket.

The company appears to be shifting its business model in some respects, opting to stock the grocery shelves of Dobbies garden centres – complete with coffee shops and their large car parks for shoppers to fill their boots with trolley-loads of goodies – with much-reduced overheads in return. Out-of-town garden centres pay lower business rates than town centre retail sites.

And if you’re hoping to pick up any “closing down sale” bargains at Waitrose, George Street, today or tomorrow, you might be disappointed. The store’s staff stopped re-stocking some shelves weeks ago, leaving the place looking quite desolate.

A bit like the rest of Croydon town centre.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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16 Responses to Waitrose’s closure is another nail in town centre’s coffin

  1. Graham Trott says:

    Don’t miss the opportunity to publish THAT photo again – or doesn’t it COUNT any longer?

  2. Lewis White says:

    Will Aldi or Lidl rush in, where Waitrose no longer spreads its wings?

    Will the major town centre national food retailer grief end there ?

    I really wonder–and fear — that there will be more casualties soon.

    I wonder how Sainsbury’s is doing in that awful ghost-town section of the High Street opposite the top end of Surrey Street ? No parking– no blimming buses either–hence no people in the street. OK, one or two– but not the scores or even hundreds who used to throng the area at any time of day , just a few years back, until the buses went, and the bike lanes came.

    What does Sainsbury’s trade in now ?. A vacuum.!¬

    Not a joke….. Just an enormous expanse of empty tarmac, occupied by on average, one bike pizza deliverooers, per couple of minutes, and hardly any one else.

    On a recent trip to the market, or what is left of a once thriving market experience- I stood alone with my shopping bags full of market produce, for 5 minutes at the top of Surrey Street, looking both ways along the High Street.

    It was a sort of post-Apocalypse experience. I saw, literally, at any time, no more than 10 people at any one moment, in that whole section of the High Street. At times, fewer. That was at 4 pm on a fine autumn day. I do a similar random check every time I visit the market– even in high summer, a few months ago, there were hardly any more people on show.

    Most shops are gone from this sad section of a once busy street. Empty. Windows bare or whitewashed over. The remaining shop keepers should be awarded Hero of Croydon status for their resilience, but should send back their medals to the Mayor in protest. But how long can they hang on?

    I asked one such brave shopkeeper if the council had gven them a Business rate reduction? Had their landlord given them a rent reduction?. Of course I knew their answers to both. NO …and…. NO. Depressing. No crystal ball needed.

    Dear Mayor Perry, please ……
    Bring back the South-bound buses to Katherine Street and the section of High Street from there to the Flyover….. beacuise it will bring back at least, some of the people.

    Has any council Engineer or Councillor tried to walk with a few bags of heavy shopping from the remaining stalls in Surrey Street , up to the top end, then turn right, walk past the old (closed) bus stops where hundreds of people used to wait for their buses Southwards, and then walk along a few hundred metres to the “temporary” bus stops outside Wren House ? It’s a bloody long way.

    I doubt it. If they had to do this, the buses would be brought back with weeks, maybe days.

    • Lewis White says:

      I should have added, a bus lane can also be a shared space with cyclists. And taxis. There can’t be a safety problem as the numbers of vehicles would be low– and there is a 20mph limit already. If not, reduce it to 15mph.

      The town centre needs to be accessible to all ages and peoples of all degrees of fitness. That means……. buses, and bus stops where people need them. Plus taxis for those who need to get door to door.

      Otherwise its decline into being a dead centre can’t be arrested. Or do some individuals really not care?

      One retailer I spoke with said that his takings are down by 70% since the buses went.

      For goodness sake, buses are public, mass transport, one of the highest expressions we have of us living and travelling in the same space– democracy in action.

      Bring back the buses — and the Southbound stops– to the High Street North of the Flyover. Just as they were. Opposite Surrey Street.

      • Yes Lewis, let’s redesign Croydon around your needs. That includes putting bus stops right outside your house and a ski lift to take your shopping from the pavement to your front door

  3. derekthrower says:

    I think another factor to be considered is the condition of the building.

    Every time it rains heavily there are massive leaks of water flowing on to the floor and the inevitable sight of plastic buckets. Hardly an experience associated with Waitrose.

    Whoever uses this site will require a huge amount of investment to bring it up to scratch. Can clearly see why there are not too many people lining up to take this place over.

  4. Anthony Miller says:

    In my lifetime this unit has been a Sainsbury’s, Sommerfeld and several others too. No one seems to be able to make it work. It’s too small to have the efficiency of a large supermarket, too big to exploit the loopholes in Sunday trading rules and since the closure of the back end of Fairfield carpark has no parking anymore. It’s a white elephant…

  5. Waitrose prices are too high for not much noticeable uplift in quality. The shopping experience is not great in the locality with the uncertainty of the crossing where the delivery motos zoom out, the wind tunnel by the black towers, the occasions when accosted say three times on the section to East Croydon by aggressive begging and the jumping out of the way of fast moving scooters on the pavement.

    • derekthrower says:

      It was in a good convenient location. Most staples in Waitrose are competitive with it’s main competitors, it provides some products that are undoubtedly of a better quality and no idea what the complaints about the general location have to do with Waitrose. This comment is a load of old rubbish like that piece of waste compromising of old wooden poles and linen that had vote Pelling scrawled on it and which has falling down on the old railway bank overlooking Coombe Road. Do something useful for once Pelling and get it removed.

      • Mariko Brown says:

        There were many staple products which were / are cheaper in Waitrose than other supermarkets such as vegan milk and toilet paper, and silken tofu, to name a few off the top of my head. The wind tunnels since the tower blocks are a problem but one still has to walk that way to get to the station. Begging a problem yes, and scooters, although I’ve personally not experienced a problem with scooters and come across more troublesome beggars near the Co-op on Landsdowne road. ( Not all homeless ar begging in a troublesome way. ) It is troublesome that there are so many in Croydon however.
        Also, the location is / was ideal for those without cars and served a lot of older people too. I heard many talk with staff about their sadness with the store shutting down.
        I had not thought ( realised ) about the Sunday trading hours and store size and not thought about the store size and the poor state of building which obviously needs addressing.

  6. Ian Kierans says:

    Waitrose went downhill when the deli meat and fish counter closed during Covid. It was then mostly stocked with stuff more as staples and as Andrew said expensive ones with little increase in quality. But it was a place to go safely during lock-downs and the staff in general were good.
    I will be sad to see it go and it is true that in this climate it would be difficult to make it a success. But with Town centers dying across the Country and Councils failing to update their business models to generate them instead seeking to charge unsustainable business rates and freeholders still charging leaseholders and those renting by outdated footfall and other methods in a huge delivery economy from online retailers, everyone finds it hard to compete when overheads and taxes are unequal.
    John Lewis and Partners has been moving to an online model as it can and does compete with online retailers very well and matches their prices with better service and warranties.
    It would be useful if Central Government woke up and did something to even out those inequities with more effective regulation and equal taxation (might be time to have an additional unpopular delivery tax for online shops and collection fees for their click and collect housed in the borough along with road charging for delivery – then we can see the real cost. I would guess that the free ride end and this would also seriously dent usage of online also.).
    But we may see then the return of shops to town centers and this Council might then have the legislation and the balls to actually do something. But perhaps not Mr Perry, one may surmise that Ms Kerswell’s trousers house bigger orbs.

    I would not count on it though. Online shopping and delivery has reached the tipping point in many western countries and Asia. Time to rethink what the Town Center can be used for and create a vibrant multi purpose not centered on shops but on experiences and Leisure with sensible charging by Councils and freeholders

  7. Hazel swain says:

    but wait….. its a prime site for yet more unwanted flats ……

  8. Jim Boyd says:

    One reason for its closure is there is no tram stop outside it’s next door neighbour McDonald’s. Ironic when the shop opposite is the tram company.

  9. Waitrose in George Street was ideal for my incidental shopping. However, for the monthly shopping I had to resort to online due to no parking facilities.

    Secondly, I found the store so convenient for the ‘pick-up’ service of parcels from John Lewis.

    I shall miss it a lot.

  10. Lewis White says:

    This wide, 1960’s section of George Street was much more animated in the pre-2000 years with lots of office workers, although it was never much more than a windy street linking the town centre with East Croydon Station.

    Now, it is only busy in the sense that all the trams go up and down it.
    The offices along this road look empty, or were the last time I walked along it.
    It has probably got windier– at the top end– as new high buildings channel the wind.

    A green strip of trees goes down the middle, which relieves the blandness of the street. It is also very sunny–a rarity nowadays, as buildings get taller and taller and crowd in on the street, like they did in the Elizabethan age.

    How long before the 3 storey Suffolk House (shops on street level, with 2 floors of offices above) is redeveloped? Ditto, the opposite side– a similar bock over the now “Ex-Waitrose” shop.

    I really hope that the planners (those unfairly much-unloved local government officers, most of whom actually care about the evolving urban environement) really do think deeply about preserving sunlight by keeping the redevelopment of the block occupied by Suffolk House substantially lower than the Waitrose side of the street.

    Suffolk House is on the South side of the street–so the higher the buildings in the redeveloped site, the less sun will reach the street. So simple, but seemingly, sunlight is getting designed out of all London redevelopments….. excet for the lucky owners of sunny, penthouse suites

    Redevelopment in this area of George Street is likely to be “Mixed use development” –in this case, probably shops below with flats and maybe some offices above. Redevelopment for offices alone seems veery unlikely, with many of the old major employers, like Nestle, long gone . And so many of their remaining staff working at home, 2 or 3 days a week, makes the need for offices space far less.

    …………Just a thank you at this point to Allianz and a few others like them, for keeping their offices here in Central Croydon. Such companies ought to get some rate subsidy in my view, for their presence, and the fact that their workforce are more likely to be travelling to the office by public transport than if they were marooned on a peripheral busness park down the road at Gatwick or Crawley.

    Until redevelopment comes along–probably with a Little Waitrose –or Tesco Metro–or the like– on part of the site of the bigger store that has just closed— the only thing I can dream up to increase footfall is exactly what Jim Boyd mentions in hs comment above–a tram stop. This would add an additional stop between East Croydon Station and the stops in Wellesley Road that service the Whitgift Centre.

    Ian Kierrans hits the target when he mentions Government helping, by taxing things like home delivery. What about the rates paid by those “Leisure Park and garden centre retailers too? Plus landlords who have long been used to good rent returns, before the demise of shopping and offices. Are some of them greedy?

    Anthony mentions car parking -or rather, its absence, so shoppers can’t do a big shop here at the George Street Waitrose. Sorry, “ex-Waitrose”.

    So very sad, this closure. There are so many empty shops now. And don’t mention the closed banks?

    What will fill the town centre void? And how many Inside Croydon Readers like me– well over 60– might never see the completion of redevelopment of the really big one– the Whitgift ?

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