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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: Opticians pulls out of market town

Optician chain Armstrong and North has closed its Berkeley outlet after nearly 30 years of trading in the town.

With regular patients being redirected to the chain's nearby outlets in Wotton-under-Edge and Dursley, a decision was made to vacate the address because it could not provide sufficient space to accommodate advancing technology. 

After social media speculation for the future of the prominent retail space, Punchline has learned that the premises, on Market Place, may soon see new life as a craft and haberdashery business, with the landlord expected to be taking possession next week, ahead of a planned refit.

The opticians was run by a single member of staff who has been given new duties and Armstrong and North, who also have outlets in Thornbury, Lydney, Chipping Sodbury and Yate, are redirecting regular patients for ongoing care.

Gareth Armstrong, director, said: "We have decided to relocate our Berkeley practice and offer our patients the option of transferring to Dursley, Thornbury, Wotton, or Yate, due to increasing costs and the limited space that we had in Berkeley. 

"We have also invested in advanced screening equipment in our other practices which help with the early detection of eye diseases and, unfortunately, Berkeley did not have the space or the capacity for this as the required investment for this equipment is in excess of £80,000."

Calls to the Berkeley number will be administered for redirection, he added.

"It's a very difficult decision to relocate a practice but we believe to continue to offer the patients of Berkeley the very best of care, using the latest equipment, is the best option."

One nearby business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "It's sad we are losing this service in the mix of what we can offer, and with the decline in making clothes it seems hard to imagine such a change of business being viable, although so many shops now specialise and also have built a reliance on online trade, so perhaps it will work.

"Berkeley is seeing so much housing expansion, but the retail prospects still feel hemmed in. The Co-Op's conversion of the Mariner's Arms is also turning out to be a waiting game. Our little town may not be so little in the coming years, with all the plans for Berkeley and Sharpness, but we need more retail support and investment to survive right now."

Speculation in the town, that the planned project for the new, bigger Co-Op is stalling, could not be confirmed when Punchline asked Berkeley Town Council for an update on progress. A spokesperson said any absence of activity at the site was not as yet a cause for concern.

The MidCounties Co-Operative store's plans indicate the project will commence later this summer. A reconfiguration of the listed former pub to a Co-Op store, and the subsequent relocation of the town's current Co-Op in Salter Street will, says the supermarket, deliver a facility that is 30 square metres larger than a typical Tesco Express – and allow a full range of retail stock for customers.

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