TWO independent Winchester shops trading for more than 100 years will close as a result of spiralling rates, rents and reductions in revenue.

Creative Crafts and Wilds Sports have been forced to close as a result of what they say are untenable business conditions in the city created by unprecedented levels of rent and rate increases.

However, that is contrasted by the launch of new shoe shop Pavers in The Square, as well as chicken restaurant Barcelos, which looks set to open in Jewry Street soon.

A senior councillor said the closures were part of a “natural evolution” and that the High Street remained strong.

Wilds Sports, founded in 1927 with a shop in Winchester since the 1940s, has gone into administration.

In a statement, owner Danny Cornter blamed the rise in business rates, the growth of online shopping, the Christmas Market deterring regular customers and an increase in parking rates as major factors.

“People used to come to Winchester because the shops were different to other high streets. Our closure makes it harder for other independents – with so many of us going the city hasn’t got what made it special any more.

“It’s not what it used to be.”

Creative Crafts has been a fixture for more than 30 years, with current owner Lyn Symonds taking over in 2002.

Ms Symonds said: “This has been on the cards since last summer, it’s not something that has happened just like that. I have tried everything.

“My rates have gone up 50 per cent and my rent is very high, with the pressure of people turning to the internet to shop creative crafts in its current form will no longer exist. I know of at least three other independents which are likely to close by the end of the year.”

She said she had been overwhelmed by the depth of feeling from customers and locals, and wished to thank everyone for their well wishes.

Creative Crafts will continue to have a Winchester market stall.

Catherine Turness, executive director of Winchester BID, said: “It is always sad to hear of businesses leaving their stores, but I am pleased to hear both Creative Crafts and Wilds Sports will be continuing their businesses online and exploring other avenues. Diversifying retail models is absolutely necessary in today’s climate, especially as consumers will continue to have the power on where and how they shop.

“We are shortly releasing a series of blogs, which have reviewed practices in a dozen independent businesses that report year-on-year profit increases. Their success is enhanced by their efforts on staff training, digitalising their business and reducing their operating costs. We hope learning from fellow businesses, coupled with the launch of a £50,000 annual fund for independent BID businesses (a new initiative for the BID’s third term) will help protect those that currently contribute to ‘Winchesterness’.

“As for the Cathedral Christmas market, there is certainly a view from some BID members who sell high-end products that the Christmas Market visitors are a different clientele to their usual customers and so it is important the key policy makers work with the Cathedral and the BID and continue to invest in improving access to encourage regular shoppers and customers to continue to visit at this crucial time of year.”

READ: 'You seem to be presiding over the death of Winchester' - Retail concerns raised over Silver Hill 2 >>>

City councillor Guy Ashton, portfolio holder for finance, said: “I don’t think that the store closures are the result of something that the council has or hasn’t done. It’s a natural evolution of the changing habits of shoppers and the natural evolution of the high street.

“The council provided a rate relief scheme to several businesses over the summer. Something that many councils didn’t do. When we reduced the amount of parking in Friarsgate we found that business footfall actually increased.”

He added: “I’m passionate about the variety and vibrancy of the high street. I’m sure new businesses will take the place of Wilds and Creative Crafts and I hope they will be successful. But if you count the amount of new businesses coming into Winchester and they out weigh the ones leaving.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire Chamber of Commerce said: “The retail sector has always been a fast-moving environment and is experiencing a significant period of change as consumer habits alter. Retailers that embrace this change and have invested in on-line options as well as creating experiences in their stores will continue to have a place in our changing town and city-centre environments. Others will have to re-invent themselves or face similar difficulties to some of the businesses that we have seen falter and fail recently.”