St Albans toy shop finds new home amidst fears of business closures

INDEPENDENT toy store Little Wonders has agreed a lease on a new city-centre shop after being pushed out of The Maltings.

Co-owner Elena Ripoll confirmed yesterday that Little Wonders had had an offer agreed on a shop at the top of Holywell Hill – and could be in there as early as mid August.

More than a thousand customers and supporters of Little Wonders signed petitions opposing the notice to quit which was served out of the blue on The Maltings shop last month because bath-products chain Lush wanted to take it over and could pay a much higher rent.

The prospect of having to close put Elena and her partner Andy’s home and livelihood at risk but customers rallied around to support the popular independent shop.

Elena and Andy have until August 27 at their existing shop before they have to move and while the new store is not in such a prime position, Elena is positive that not only can they make it work but improve it as well.

She said: “It is just unreal the amount of support we have received in emails and people putting letters through the door of the shop. The new store has made us think about making our business model even more family-orientated and we are thinking of having a pre-school play area. Kids play here freely now and parents know that everything we have here will bounce.

“The new shop is only a three-minute walk away from where we are and obviously we are walking into unknown territory but I have a feeling that because of the level of support we have received, people will follow us.”

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The Maltings has offered to put up promotional material in the shopping centre pointing people to the new location when it opens.

n The closure of four businesses in the nearby Christopher Place shopping centre has raised concerns that rising rents could have forced them out.

Cinta Garden Chinese Restaurant, Meat Packers Grill, Ernest Jones and Tides have all closed recently.

The centre is under new ownership – it was bought by a company called Hermes for �35 million shortly before Christmas – and the empty Jaeger store is being advertised at a rent of �100,000 plus service charges and rates.

One shopkeeper in Christopher Place, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that his rents had not increased and he was not aware of any problems involving the new owners. No-one from Hermes was available for comment yesterday.