Two months ago it was one of Preston’s busiest shopping streets ... today it looks like a ghost town.
And traders in Friargate fear roadworks for the £57m University Square project could kill off their businesses before traffic returns in the summer.
One convenience store has been forced to lay off three staff because takings have slumped by more than £6,000 since last month.
A hairdresser says she has lost one in four customers since Friargate was closed off to traffic at one end.
A charity shop reckons business is down 40 per cent on the same period last year.
And another shopkeeper warned: “If this goes on until August then a lot of businesses will be shut - it’s that severe.”
Work on turning the Adelphi roundabout into a showpiece square - a key part of the University of Central Lancashire’s ambitious £200m Masterplan - began at the end of November.
Developers predicted it could take around nine months to complete the job, meaning Friargate would have no through traffic until the summer.
Traders say many of the businesses on that stretch of road depend on passing trade. And as footfall has fallen, so too have takings.
Beverley Moulding, who owns Friargate Hair and Beauty, said: “All the businesses down here are struggling. Had it only been for a couple of months then maybe we could have coped, but not nine months.
“We have bookings, but we don’t have anyone bobbing in any more. There is no passing trade.
“Our business has fallen by about 25 per cent since the work started. That’s your profit gone.
“If nothing is done to help businesses along here then some of them won’t be here by the summer.
“It’s bad enough now, but wait until May when the students have gone home. It will be a ghost town.”
Across the road the British Heart Foundation charity runs a furniture store. Trade, says manager Angela Gilkes, has fallen by around 40 per cent since Friargate was blocked off to through traffic.
“We used to get lots of people passing on buses, or standing at the bus stop, who would look in, see something they liked and pop in.
“But the buses don’t come past any more. And the only people coming past are students going to and from the university.
“We are a national charity and so it isn’t affecting us as badly as it is some sole traders. If it goes on until July or August then it is going to kill some businesses off. I don’t know how they are going to cope.”
Koti Puvvada, who owns the Best One Express convenience store, was forced to lay off his three members of staff recently because of a dramatic drop in trade.
“I can’t afford their wages anymore,” he said. “My takings are down £6,000 since the roadworks started.
“It’s just me now - with my wife filling in while I have a break. I used to open at 7am, but now I’m not bothering until 10am because there is no-one around. And I stay open until 2am, just in the hope of picking up some late night trade.
“I’ve thought of packing in and selling the business. But I don’t think I’ll find a buyer with the way things are right now. It’s definitely going to shut me down if it goes on until August.”
Established jeweller David Jones, who has been in business for 35 years, has been in contact with the developers and the university and is hoping to have a meeting with them in the next few days.
“I agree that improvements in the city centre, like University Square, are a fantastic thing for Preston. But it could be at the expense of businesses along Friargate. They have to consider us, the businesses, who are having a tough time right now.”
As a barber, Nitesh Maru depends on passing trade at The Original Barbershop in Friargate. But the dramatic drop in footfall has had a marked effect on his business.
“We were told nine months and that is a long time to put up with this,” he said. “Some traders along here are wondering if they are going to last until the street re-opens. Some don’t think they will.”
At phone shop Fone Box, Adil Patel admitted things had been “very quiet” since the road closed.
“It’s a lot quieter than it normally is. I’ve really noticed a drop in trade. There aren’t the same number of people walking past, so we aren’t seeing the same number of people calling in.”
Florist Margaret Mason, Preston’s longest serving retailer, refuses to be downcast even though she looks out onto “road closed” signs and her famous eye-catching window displays are being viewed by thousands fewer passers-by.
“We’re still doing them,” said Margaret who has been in business in Friargate for 58 years. “We used to get plenty of people passing here on buses and on foot and looking at our windows. But not at the moment.
“But my view is we can’t do anything about the roadworks. They’re here for a while now. All we can do is get on with it and tell people ‘Friargate is open for business - not shut.’
“The road closure has affected a lot of businesses down here and some a lot worse than mine. But we just have to work around it the best we can.
“My message to the people of Preston is: ‘Please come to Friargate. Please support the businesses. It would be tragic if some shopkeepers closed down because of this.
“At the moment it’s business as usual. The road might be blocked to traffic, but the footpaths are still open. So pay us a call.”
CALL FOR SHOPS TO BE COMPENSATED
Leaders of Preston's Business Improvement District (BID) are calling for retailers affected by the roadworks to be compensated for their losses.
The group, which represents more than 800 businesses in the city centre, has urged shop owners to apply to the council for a reduction in their rates.
"Unfortunately this is a problem that will have an affect on many shops and businesses in close proximity to the Adelphi works," said Mark Whittle from BID.
"Many businesses are reporting a significant downturn in trade as a result of a loss in footfall, and its damaging.
"In the past there has been little that a business can access in the way of compensation when works damage their profitability. However, local authorities do have the power to provide relief on business rates based on hardship.
"We would urge the businesses affected to contact the council and apply for support whilst the works are underway.
"We appreciate that the construction project is necessary and when complete will transform that part of the city centre for the better. Yet we need to be mindful that the livelihood of many local people is dependent on those businesses keeping afloat.
"These businesses, which have been affected by no fault of their own, should be supported and compensated accordingly."
UCLAN SAYS SORRY
University bosses have apologised to traders for the impact the roadworks are having on trade.
But a UCLan spokesman urged shopkeepers to be patient, saying the improvements would be "worth it in the end."
"We are sorry for any disruption being caused to businesses and the public while we improve the Friargate area of Preston," said Michael Ahern, the university's chief information and infrastructure officer.
“Throughout the process of making our vision for the masterplan a reality, we have gone to great lengths to minimise the affects of our building work, including visits to discuss plans, the provision of additional car parking, information about diversions and a drop-in centre.
“We have also worked very hard to ensure that pedestrian access to all businesses on Friargate and the surrounding areas remains fully open.
“We continue to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure our plans are communicated regularly and have the interests of students, staff and the public at heart.
“The current phase of highways work is on schedule to be completed during July and we would ask local businesses and indeed all our stakeholders for their continued patience.
“Once the short-term disruption of trade is passed, local traders will benefit from our investment through a much more vibrant trading environment surrounded by the highest quality streetscape incorporating spaces for a range of community, business and student uses.
"Please bear with us, it will be worth it in the end.”