Today, wanting to get a better view of the complicated hard-landscaping going on at the Clock Tower, I wandered on to the upper floor of Boots and over to the window overlooking Queens Road. The view from here didn't leave me much the wiser regarding the worksite but, what did strike me, as always, was the complete absence of any of the signs of normal retail activity around me. Certainly no customers with the gleam of acquisition in their eyes casting around for the paypoint, but also no browsers, no staff. And this in an area devoted to kid's stuff during a half-term holiday in what must be the most valuable square-footage of retail space on the south coast! How can Boots afford it?
Up until about 10 years ago, on the same floor, but over on the North Street side, there was a very popular self-service restaurant. The staff were friendly, the seating area was comfortable, with views down North Street, and the food was adequate. To reach the restaurant customers had to wend their way through shelves loaded with what I believe are termed 'fancy goods'; items like candles, fancy picture frames and mass-produced little ornaments. Even then I remember wondering at what could be the turnover and profit margin for this stuff that would justify it occupying such valuable space.
Then the suits at Head Office must have got together and decided that the coming thing was the provision of such fringe medical procedures as laser-eye correction, chiropracty, maybe botox and chiropody; I can't remember exactly. The restaurant was swept away and in place of the lively chatter of coffee-drinkers, the clatter of cutlery and the hiss of urns, came silence, and a forbidding clinic reception area staffed by a perfectly made-up receptionist, also in white, who never appeared to have enough to do. The contrast was staggering!
It obviously wasn't a success. In September 2004 this also was swept away and, to this date, nothing has replaced it. Behind the white hoarding lies the remains of a kitchen and at least the same area again of unproductive space*.
I still miss the restaurant but otherwise am a disinterested observer. If I was a Boots shareholder however I would be asking some very pointed questions about this situation which has persisted for at least 10 years
*Hasty footnote. Since posting I have heard that there may be a Doctor's Surgery behind the hoarding. So perhaps Boots are getting some rent. It still seems a strange use of potentially valuable retail space.