THE future is looking bright for a town centre that once had one of the highest levels of empty shops in the country.
Mayor of Havant, cllr Paul Buckley, yesterday officially opened four new shops in Park Parade, Leigh Park, where the former eyesore Netto supermarket once stood.
Landlord Mark Smith has renovated the unit along with 15 other shops, helping to turn round the fortunes of the high street which was, at one time, compared to a ghost town.
There was a ribbon cutting ceremony and champagne corks were popped as four new businesses opened their doors for the first time.
Tricia Gibbs, 26, moved her online clothing business for larger women, Big Girls Clothing, into one of the new units.
She said: ‘We cater for women who can’t generally find clothes in a bigger size.
‘We’ve been trading online for a year, just to gauge interest, and it has been very popular.
‘The landlord is really trying to bring the area back up.
‘We felt with the opportunity he had provided – lower rents and short term leases – it gave us the security to start up and not fear that our house was going to be repossessed or anything.
‘It was a nice, cheap, way to see if we were going to work. It looks promising.’
Mr Smith began investing in Park Parade 18 months ago.
He also owns a property in the adjoining precinct, Greywell, which is mostly owned by private investors and still has a lot of empty shops.
Jeff Crate, Havant Borough Council’s economic development officer, said: ‘Park Parade looks completely different to what it did 10 years ago. All the empty shops then are all occupied now.
‘It’s good news for Leigh Park and Havant.
‘Mark Smith has made the difference.
‘We’re just waiting for Greywell shopping centre to up its game a bit as well.’
Only 20 per cent of the shops in Park Parade are empty now, compared to 36 per cent two years ago.