WH Smith in Grays to close and Post Office future in doubt
Date posted: 26-09-2012
GRAYS is set to lose one of its few landmark stores next year, with the future of the towns Post Office also now in the melting pot.
WH Smith has given notice that it intends to quit its existing store in Grays Shopping Centre when its lease runs out next March, raising the question of what will happen to the towns Post Office, which moved into the store when its former Victorian building in nearby George Street was closed by the Post Office in June 2007.
A spokesperson for WH Smith said: “We can confirm that our store in Grays will close in March 2013. A decision has been taken for commercial reasons following the lease expiring.
“We remain committed to the town and should a suitable alternative location become available we would look into this.”
The move was slammed by many town residents at the time, who were worried about the implications of moving into commercial premises and the possible further decline in services it offered.
Among those who raised a protest was well known local charity organiser Pierina Kavanagh, who described her mood as furious and said she could not see any justification for not securing the Opost Offices permanent future.
I cannot see any cost-saving justification for this. The population of Grays is about 30,000 and growing fast. The Post Office should be opening more branches, not closing them down.
Those concerns now seem likely to be raised again, though Thurrock Council leader Cllr John Kent has already spoken up to say he and the authority will be doing their utmost to secure a future for the Post Office in the town.
It is a commercial decision at the end of the day but we will be closely monitoring this situation and offering help and advice. I don not want to see Grays lose its Post Office and I don not think it will.
If it is needed, we will look at offering a facility in the library or other Council premises.
Ironically the Council now plays a major role in the administration of the former Post Office in George Street, which was bought by the now defunct Thurrock Development Corporation and turned into a business and training centre. The Corporation was taken over the by Council last year.
Grays Shopping Centre manager Keith Evans also remains upbeat, both about the retention of WH Smith in some form, and the Post Office.
We are aware of the commercial pressures on WH Smith, caused by the impact of the recession and the growth of discount stores which have impacted on its profitability on certain retail sectors, such as the sale of CDs, he said.
As a company it has looked at its ongoing business strategy and is moving into and concentrating on other key areas of its business, meaning in some places it is looking at downsizing its stores.
As part of that strategy they have given us six months notice on the lease of their current store and that is now set to close in March.
We are now actively and constructively talking with both Smiths and the Post Office to see if we have other sites in the centre that are suitable, either as a joint concern or individually. We are confident we can find a mutually acceptable outcome.
Cllr Kent is also bullish, not just about Smiths and the Post Office, but also Grays long term future as a town centre.
He said: We understand that WH Smith are acting on a national policy but we believe they may not be aware of the future prospects in Grays. The impending opening of the new learning campus in the town centre, for example, will bring a huge rise in the number of the people in the town centre and the student market is one that WH Smith targets.
We will be talking to them about that and any other ways that we may be able to help, though we must always act reasonably and responsibly and in fairness to other traders. We appreciate the fact that a key name like WH Smith is in the town but we must treat them in the same way as everyone else.
The Post Office is a slightly different issue and we will be doing everything we can to help find it a new home. It is vitally important that Grays retains this Post Office.
A Post Office spokesperson said: We have been advised of the withdrawal of premises for Post Office use in March 2013.
We would like to reassure customers that we are committed to maintaining services to people in the Grays area. We will be working hard to find a solution which allows us to ensure there is no break in service when the current branch closes in March next year.