CROYDON IN CRISIS: Latest exit of flagship store will be a hammer blow to the town centre. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The exodus of major stores from the blighted Whitgift Centre is about to get worse still, with Sainsbury’s to close their supermarket in the town centre in less than three months’ time.
The Sainsbury’s store was one of the first to open its doors when the Whitgift Centre opened more than 50 years ago, and its closure was described as “the end of an era” by one town centre business source.
Sainsbury’s departure is the latest hammer blow to the prospects for the town centre, after more than a decade of development blight prompted by the on-off-on-off-off-off again plans from Westfield and their cheerleaders in Croydon Town Hall. Any new “masterplan” presented to Croydon Council later this year by developers Westfield will have to take into account the absence of its major supermarket.
The Whitgift Centre has been hobbling along, trying to maintain the pretence of being an attractive retail mall, since the closure of anchor department store Allders 10 years ago. That building’s “meanwhile” use, as the “Village Outlet” was kiboshed by the council, on behalf of Westfield, in 2019 and has been empty ever since.
More recently, rival supermarket Waitrose, on George Street, closed last year, while the Whitgift Centre’s branch of WH Smith decided to halve its floor space by abandoning its first-floor premises.
NatWest, the last high street bank to be based in the Whitgift Centre, is to close its branch there next month.
And there are as yet unconfirmed reports that another significant, larger Whitgift Centre store is also considering closure.
Sainsbury’s decision to vacate the Whitgift Centre is likely to stoke speculation that Marks and Spencer may opt to do the same, especially as they have recently opened a large new store on the Purley Way.
The loss of Sainsbury’s from the Whitgift Centre will be a serious blow to the local economy and to the vitality of the once-thriving shopping mall.
Sainsbury’s has been a Whitgift Centre ever-present since its opening day in 1969, when it was the retailers’ largest supermarket (they boasted as much in an ad in the Croydon Advertiser at the time), at a time when they also hosted guided tours of American business partners around the Croydon store to demonstrate that they were the very epitome of 20th Century consumerist modernity.
One town centre business source suggested that the departures of Sainsbury’s, NatWest and others may be linked to the Whitgift Centre’s latest round of lease renewals. Or non-renewals.
“Many of the stores there have lost patience with the owners and the constant delays and uncertainty over the redevelopment,” the source said.
“They’ve had some scaffolding up recently, all fenced off, which is another off-putting factor about the place, as they carry out some long-overdue roof repairs.
“Handing out free or very-low rent premises to ‘meanwhile’ use pop-ups and charity and community interests cannot mask the continuing decline of the Whitgift Centre. And they won’t be able to replace Sainsbury’s with a pop-up store.”
Staff at the store have been placed under strict orders not to talk to the press, but they have confirmed the closure. Some have been offered work at other stores, but there will be some job losses.
The business consideration behind the decision may be obvious: footfall – the number of customers visiting the Whitgift Centre – has not managed to return to pre-lockdown levels.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has a clutch of its “Local” outlets nearby: outside East Croydon Station, close to West Croydon Station, on Brighton Road, on the High Street and on the busy Wellesley Road junction. None of them offer as extensive range of goods as is available in the Whitgift Centre supermarket, but all of them charge premium prices for their convenience store opening times.
Sainsbury’s had not responded to Inside Croydon’s invitation to comment by the time of publication.
- Inside Croydon – as seen on TV! – has been delivering local community news since 2010. 3million page views per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
- If you want real journalism, actually based in the borough, you should consider paying for it. Please sign up today. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- As featured on Google News Showcase
- We offer FREE ads to community groups when they have members who are paid subscribers to Inside Croydon
- Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine