A longtime London shoe retailer has shut down its Richmond Row store, calling the COVID-19 lockdown “the nail in the coffin” after it has endured slowing sales and growing vandalism.
Mugford Shoes and Clothing on Central Avenue, just west of Richmond Street, has emptied the store, sending its merchandise to its other stores in Westmount Shopping Centre and St. Thomas, both of which will remain open, said Patti Mugford-Pooley, who owns the business with her sister and mother.
“We have been on Richmond Row since 1981 and the last five years have been a disaster,” Mugford-Pooley said. “I remember when Richmond Row was the place to shop, the place to go, the posh place in London.”
Mugford-Pooley said she’s tired of dealing with break-ins, vandalism and rushing to the store at 5 a.m. to answer an alarm call.
Her store was broken into early Tuesday and later that day, she had a work crew on site removing merchandise and shipping it to her other stores.
The building will also be sold, she added.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad. I am dealing with break-ins and a door broken for a third time in two weeks.”
News of the closing comes as several other downtown businesses have expressed concern recently over vandalism.
Rebel Remedy, a café on Dundas Street, has had its windows smashed six times in the last 14 months. Che Restobar, a restaurant also on Dundas, had its outdoor patio smashed recently by a man wielding a golf club. Nooners, a cafe on Clarence Street, has had its windows smashed three times since March, and London Bicycle Café has had three break-ins since July with bicycles stolen. Other retailers such as David E. White and Andrew Douglas Clothiers have suffered break-ins and vandalism.
In August longtime core-area retailer Susan J Fashions closed its doors, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the final straw.
“We just roll up our sleeves and refuse to be roadkill,” said White of how to cope with the challenges of running a business downtown.
“It is not good to see any business close. It saddens me. We need to get people back on the street. No one is happy right now.”
White believes London police have stepped up foot patrols recently, an action called for by Downtown London, the merchants’ group. He also stressed vandalism happens in other areas of the city, and is not solely a downtown problem.
“Her concerns are legitimate,” he said of Mugford-Pooley. “Now the vandals own the street, but we will get them back.”
Despite having her business hurt by ongoing vandalism, Rebel Remedy co-owner Julie Kortekaas is calling for an understanding of the human need behind homelessness, poverty and vandalism.
“I think the city is doing the best it can. It has announced temporary shelters” to house the homeless, she said. “There are people out there, in the cold, having a tough time right now. Vandalism is not done just by people lighting fires to keep warm. We have to find a way to get suburban people to care about the human issue.”
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Mugford-Pooley had been considering closing the downtown store since last year and the increase in vandalism, coupled with a four-week COVID-19 lockdown that began on Boxing Day, made the decision easier, she said.
Mugford Shoes has had three locations in the Richmond Row area since 1981. It first opened in St. Thomas in 1965. In the 1980s, Mugford had eight stores in London, St. Thomas and Tillsonburg.
Despite the challenges on Richmond Row, the company’s two other stores are doing well, Mugford-Pooley added.
“We have been in business 56 years. We are all about customer service. Being closed (due to the COVID-19 lockdown) is not good for us,” she said. “We are lucky we have the other locations.”