DELIGHT and dismay – these were the two reactions of two very different communities after news broke that Waitrose would be leaving Littlehampton for a fresh start in Rustington.
The upmarket retailer, based in Anchor Springs, confirmed on Thursday (March 12) it would be leaving in the summer after almost four years in the town.
The announcement came after the company reached an agreement to lease the vacant former Co-op unit at the junction of Broadmark Lane and The Street in Rustington.
Waitrose head of retail operations Simon Rudland confirmed there would be no redundancies or job losses on the cards as a result of the shake-up.
“While we look forward to opening in Rustington, we are proud to have been part of the Littlehampton community for the last four years and will be sad to leave the town,” he said. “It was not an easy decision to relocate and we understand it may cause some disappointment with our Littlehampton customers.
“Like any business, though, we must always evaluate how we can improve our customers’ shopping experience and best serve the area in the long-term.”
The plan thrilled villagers in Rustington but left a sour taste in the mouth of Littlehampton locals.
Simon Vickers, chairman of Littlehampton Traders’ Partnership, said: “We are, as a town, disappointed to see Waitrose move from what we thought was a profitable site on a profitable location.
“However, we look forward to whatever else will move in there. When the Somerfield store moved from the site people felt despondent and concerned. But then Waitrose moved in, which was great for the town. So we will just have to wait and see who moves in.”
While in Rustington, the chairman of the village’s parish council, councillor Graham Tyler, described the news as a ‘coup’ for the area.
“To have a major, premium retailer taking over the vacant Co-op site is a real coup for Rustington village itself,” he said. “It’s great for the thriving village, for the new businesses and the for the existing ones. We’re just delighted.”
Sarah Wickens, director of Store Property Investments Limited, which owns much of Rustington’s retail centre, was also pleased.
She said: “We were delighted to hear that Waitrose would be coming to the village. We think that they will compliment the high street very well.”
Mrs Wickens explained that Store Property had been hunting for a new tenant to takeover the vacant building since the Co-op left, at the end of last year.
She said work was currently underway to refit and modernise the site, which had not been changed since it opened in 1971.
“It’s a good chance to give it a new lease of life and we are very pleased,” she added. “We have had excellent feedback from local tenants and residents who are all thrilled to hear that a new store will be coming to Rustington.”
The new branch will double the number of customer car parking spaces available and provide a dedicated service area for deliveries.
All the 140 employees at Waitrose Littlehampton will be offered the opportunity to move to the new store.
A Waitrose spokesman added the Littlehampton shop would continue to trade until the new branch opens later this year.