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A pocket of Carlisle city centre has suffered major blow with news that three businesses there are either closing or pulling out.

The decision to close Dickinsons furniture store on Victoria Viaduct combined with the looming loss of two other businesses has reignited calls for action to tackle the Central Plaza Hotel, which has lain empty for 13 years.

Hours after the announcement that Dickinsons will close its Carlisle store and two others, with the loss of up to 30 jobs, it was confirmed that Margie’s celebrations store at nearby Bush Brow will also close.

Carol Abel and her husband Rod have run The Cookware Company shop on the Viaduct for almost 27 years. They say that the increasing dilapidation of the Central Plaza Hotel was a major factor in their decision to leave.

“People come to the corner, see the hotel, and they don’t go any further,” she said. “It definitely has an impact, and it’s an impact that we’ve felt more and more as they years have gone by.

“I supposed it’s down to money. Ideally, I’d love to see it restored. There was a plan to turn it into flats, with a coffee shop underneath. They should make it into something because it’s a key feature of this city.

“Before it closed, we used to open at 8am, and buses would pick up people outside and a lot of people used to come in here, with some buying nick nacks. It was so lovely. This was a busy little hub right up to the day the hotel closed.

“Yes, I think it’s closing has made a big difference. This has been a good location but there just isn’t now enough footfall. That’s a big part of our reason for leaving.”

The owner of Margie’s is Margaret Scott, who said her business was closing as a result of changing market forces particularly increasing competition from supermarkets and online suppliers of celebration paraphernalia.

“One of our suppliers told us that she knows of ten other firms which have closed down. It’s market forces: cheaper imports, and people buying from the internet and from supermarkets. They’re pushing smaller businesses out.”

Margaret has run the business for more than 19 years, the last five of them from a unit at Bush Brow just below Viaduct. Another reason for a downturn is that traditional wedding cakes are now less fashionable.

“You can’t fight progress,
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” added Margaret, whose firm employs three part timers.

Northumberland based Dickinsons Furnishers Group this week announced a revised retail and business strategy which will involve the closure of its high street stores in Alnwick, Hexham, and Carlisle.

This follows a period of sustained growth and investment in their commercial and contracting divisions and the launch of a new online store.

Managing director John Spreadbury said: “We have also a need to protect our business from the drop off in footfall at our predominantly market town stores and it is with a heavy heart that we are consulting our staff on the closure of these stores.

“Sadly the group is no longer able to sustain the running costs and drop off in sales in this area of our business.”

He added: “There is a confident feel about the city and I hope that means it helps to attract others into the area.”

Carlisle City Council Leader Colin Glover expressed his sadness at the news of the closures, but said senior councillors were determined to do all they can to help transform the Viaduct into a more attractive city gateway.

He said: “It’s was sorry news when we heard about Dickinsons.

“They’re changing their business model and concentrating more on their commercial and online business. Having said that, in Carlisle, the visual impact of the Central Plaza Hotel does not help.

“It’s been a long running problem and the complicated ownership position the fact that it’s being held by Crown solicitors doesn’t help. But the Council is working closely with partners to see who might be interested in the building.

“We are making progress, but it’s not as fast as we’d like it to be. There have been a number of businesses which have viewed the building.

“Some have said no; they’re not interested. Others have maintained an interest. As a council, we have a duty to try to move it forward. But it’s not our building, and ultimately we have no control over it.

“However, as with any other gateway into the city, it has to have appeal and it has to make people want to carry on and come into the city.

“It hasn’t been an attractive entrance into Carlisle for years, with it being so dilapidated but we want to change that. We’re just not going to give up on this.”

When Dickinsons moved into Carlisle in 2012, taking over the huge sandstone building that formerly housed Chapmans furniture store, staff shed tears of joy and relief.

The prospect of Dickinson’s now also closing caused sadness among other retailers on the Viaduct this week.

Sharon Smith, who manages The Bed Shop just across the road,
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said: “It’s a real shame to see a local business disappear.”