THE owner of a chain of cafes says she cannot remember seeing as many empty shops in what should be a thriving town centre as she has spotted in Bournemouth.

Helena Hudson, whose business the Real Eating Company has two branches in the town, wants more to be done to fill vacant units and encourage independent businesses.

She shared her thoughts following the recent closure of Jones Bootmaker in Old Christchurch Road after 133 years.

Ms Hudson said on social media: “I cannot remember seeing so many empty shops in what should be a thriving city centre.”

She told the Daily Echo there should be more efforts to listen to businesses.

“At the moment it seems we need a bit of a fresh perspective and ideas as to what can be done to increase footfall and drive the town – a bit more communication, dialogue and coordination,” she said.

“I want to see Bournemouth thrive and flourish and not just sit back on our heels when we get some of these big retailers closing down for whatever reason.

“It’s a real opportunity to look at how things can be re-engineered to encourage smaller businesses, with creative people in the town centre who won’t have been able to afford to be here.”

Real Eating Company is headquartered in Brighton and has branches from Horsham in West Sussex to Salisbury.

She added: “I’ve got money tied up here. I want to see Bournemouth thrive. It’s not just about how it helps the business – that should be a side effect.”

Paul Kinvig, chief operating officer of Bournemouth Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID), said the organisation had found occupancy rates in the BID area had worsened by only 0.1 per cent in the past three months.

But he added: “The issue of empty shops in town is a really tangible issue that we’ve all got to face.”

He said there were new businesses setting up in town, but landlords should consider offering shorter leases to encourage independents. The BID was encouraging dialogue between all parties involved.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that improving the attractiveness of town centres is more and more down to town centres being able to encourage and attract independent, artisan retailers that provide a different mix,” he said.

“That goes back to all the players sitting down and saying, ‘How can we do things differently?’”