JUST six weeks ago Park Parade was being ridiculed as a ghost town – the area with the highest number of empty shops in the country.
But now traders are fighting back with half a dozen new shops opening in the past month.
And it’s the shopkeepers who are having the last laugh. They say business in Park Parade is booming.
Helen Bolton opened Best Pet Foods in Park Parade last year and her business is doing so well she has opened an even bigger store on the parade and will be opening a beauty parlour there in a few weeks time.
She said: ‘Sales have been excellent. We really hit the ground running.’
Paul Bigwood opened Independent Funeral Directors on October 1 and has already set up a traders’ association to turn around the shopping centre’s fortunes.
‘The image that Leigh Park has got is unfair,’ said 43–year–old Mr Bigwood.
‘This is a place of immense community spirit and you will do well here with the right attitude.
‘I’d been thinking about setting up on my own and this was perfect because there was no other funeral directors here. And business has been great – it has surpassed all my expectations.’
Landlord Mark Smith recently acquired nine of the retail units. Six are let and the other three are expected to be open in time for Christmas.
He said: ‘When I saw this I knew there was a big opportunity for regeneration.
‘Ashwood Mobility took over one of my units six weeks after I bought it.
‘Previously that unit had been empty for 23 years and it was down to bad landlordship. Businesses can succeed here but you need to be flexible as a landlord.’
Councillor Ken Smith, Mayor of Havant, will officially open the six new shops on Saturday at 10.30am.
There is also a Facebook page called Leigh Park Traders’ Association for the public to give their ideas on how to encourage businesses and shoppers to Park Parade.
Helen Dunning, owner of soon–to–open Always Flowers, said: ‘The area is really on the up. All we need is for the shoppers to see it for themselves.’