‘CRIPPLING’ tax, traffic issues and an ‘upwards spiral’ in rent are reasons behind the demise of Oxford shops, retailers have claimed.

Five city centre businesses have closed or announced closure in recent weeks, and the Oxford Mail can reveal the latest to be the historical Elmer Cotton sports shop and The Oxford Gallery.

Elmer Cotton, which opened in 1911 and claims to be the UK’s oldest sports shop, announced yesterday that it will move to online-only and shut its premises in Turl Street.

The Oxford Times:

The Oxford Gallery in High Street, opened five years ago and has struggled amid the online shopping boom and increasing costs. It will close early next week.

Owners blamed a rise in rent set by its landlords, the Queen’s College, and a spike in business rates paid to Oxford City Council. It follows Aspire Style, also in High Street, which recently closed also blaming high business rates.

The Oxford Times:

In recent weeks, the Bamboo Korean restaurant has disappeared from its spot beneath the Royal Oxford Hotel in Frideswide Square. Just around the corner in Park End Street, the Kwik Fit garage has also vacated its premises, leaving the huge unit standing empty below a ‘to let’ sign.


Oxford is becoming a 'scruffy, poorly managed clone town.'

City council hits back over Oxford city centre claims 

The company’s communications director Roger Griggs said: “It was very popular with Oxford motorists but unfortunately over recent years, changes to traffic flows within the city made it more and more difficult for drivers to access the centre.”

Elmer Cotton's owner Judith Barrows said the closure of the store at the end of December would be a "sad day and the end of an era", and urged people to embrace independent shops.

She said: “They need you to survive and thrive. Oxford needs to know that you want your city to remain one of history, community and independence.”

The Government calculates business rates on value of the premises rather than profit, which the owner of Oxford Gallery, David Marcus, branded unfair.

He said: “Business rates are already pretty crippling as they are. Shopping patterns are changing throughout the country and it’s unfair that rent seems to be stuck in an upward-only spiral.”

He said the closure was "a shame" but insisted the decision had not been taken lightly. He added: “It’s very sad and it’s going to take some time to come to terms with it.”

A spokesperson for the Queen’s College said: “The college’s trustees are expected to maximise the returns from its investment assets, within an acceptable level of risk.

“The vast majority of commercial property leases in the UK have ‘upwards-only’ provisions to review the rent at certain points in the term of the lease.”

The Oxford Times:

The gallery is managed by Mr Marcus’s daughter Caroline Marcus. The family also owns Reginald David Jewellers next door, on which it will focus its efforts.

Mr Marcus called for improved parking in Oxford to make access easier, business rates to account for profit, and for landlords to be realistic about rent, in order to ‘break the downward spiral’ of shop closures.

On the front page of Monday’s Oxford Mail, city councillor Mary Clarkson insisted that Oxford was ‘thriving’.

But Mr Marcus said even if the new Westgate Centre had boosted footfall, people walking past his shop were mainly "day tripper tourists and younger people" interested in souvenirs and sustenance.

He said: “Oxford used to have a great wealth of unusual and interesting independents. We need to at least cherish what we have got left.

“I thank our customers for their support and I’m really sorry we won’t be there for them in the future.”

Mrs Barrows at Elmer Cotton was equally grateful to her customers.

She said the switch to online selling marked an exciting new chapter in line with changing shopping habits. She told customers: “We have loved watching your children grow up, fitting their rugby boots and restringing their tennis rackets.

“We have loved celebrating exams passed and university places gained and continuing to hear their stories when they’ve returned with their own children.

“To our phenomenal staff we are eternally grateful, you will forever be part of our family.

“This wasn’t just a shop but the beating heart of Oxford’s sporting community.”

Aspire Style in High Street has also thanked its customers, in an emotional message on its website. It states that all five of its UK branches had closed.

The statement said online shopping, "inflexible" leases and increasing business rates were all factors, as well as competition with shopping centres and major retailers’ discounts.

The notice added: “Please remember to support other precious remaining independent retailers to make the high street an interesting and vibrant place to shop.”

Independent stores are not alone in suffering the retail slump – the company in charge of John Lewis, the anchor store for the Westgate Centre, is also struggling.

Yesterday the John Lewis Partnership announced its profits in the first half of the year had plummeted by 99 per cent compared to the same period last year.