“I have been here for twenty years; I have never seen Gardner Street this quiet. It’s flat. It’s dead,” said Saeed Hadadi when I visited his shoe shop, La Shu.

At first glance, much-loved Gardner Street in Brighton's North Laine, was a haven of activity. It's loved by shoppers and tourists alike, with dog walkers soaking up the spring sun, coffee shops filled with people getting their caffeine and cake fix and international students chatting excitedly in different languages.

But, on closer inspection, most retail shops on this bustling street only had one customer or were empty.

Saeed seemed to know why there was a disconnect between shoppers and independent retailers.

The business owner said the introduction of online shopping in the past is when independent shops started to struggle.

The Argus: Saeed Hadadi outside his shop La ShuSaeed Hadadi outside his shop La Shu (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

He said: “My opinion is the internet first affected shopping habits. Now, the cost of living, interest rates, food and fuel prices have also gone up. 

“The shoe business has become a luxury now. People walk around and then leave. When I opened this shop twenty years ago, it was very successful.

"I make a lot less now. I make less than half of what I used to make.

The Argus: Inside La ShuInside La Shu (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

“Gardner Street also used to have more variety. Having one, two, or three cafes is fine, but now it's become a food place. It’s lost its originality.” 

These issues are unsurprising as the cost-of-living crisis and high inflation have affected the retail industry significantly, leading to many shop closures.

Next door is Wideye, a natural skincare and body care company whose scent of luxury soaps, bath bombs, and perfumes paired with relaxing spa music is a world’s away from the leather goods scent at La Shu.

The Argus: The manager of Wideye Alessia Mancini outside the shopThe manager of Wideye Alessia Mancini outside the shop (Image: The Argus/ Nadia Abbas)

However, the two shops share more than just a wall between them; both were devoid of customers when I walked in.

Alessia Mancini, the manager of Wideye and a Brighton resident of thirteen years, has noticed the difference in customer’s shopping habits in the last few years.

She said: “There has been a massive shift since Covid. Thank God we had our website. We got through that, which is fantastic, but then, boom! Inflation happened.

“People are shopping online too much and don’t realise this is detrimental to the high street. Shops will close, and people will be like: ‘Oh, that’s a shame’ But, people should have been buying their products to keep them open!”

The Argus: The inside of WideyeThe inside of Wideye (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

After gaining insight into the struggles of Gardner Street's retail businesses, I was hopeful for some positive news from food traders, who are thriving amidst the current economic climate, according to La Shu and Wideeye.

I met with the owner of the Cornish Pasty Shop, Ian Baldry, who said that Brighton and Hove City Council’s rule to remove tables and chairs outside food establishments on Gardner Street on weekdays has affected the business significantly. 

The Argus: Ian Baldry and his wife Nesh Baldry outside the Cornish Pasty ShopIan Baldry and his wife Nesh Baldry outside the Cornish Pasty Shop (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

The row over Gardner Street has rumbled on for the past three years since it was closed to all traffic except bicycles in July 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

In October, the council decided the street would close to traffic from 11am to 7pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on bank holidays.

Ian said: “The weather affects us when it rains, we have fewer customers. Also, not having tables and chairs means we sell less as well. Buying a pasty was a normal thing to do, but now it has become a treat. People used to come here three times a day for coffee, but now they come three times a week.”

The Argus: Inside the Cornish Pasty ShopInside the Cornish Pasty Shop (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

Despite these challenges, The Spice Shop seems to have cracked the retail business code by harnessing social media, particularly TikTok.

The manager of The Spice Shop, Amy Harrison, said TikTok has helped attract young customers who search for the latest trending flavours like the Mexican spice mix Tajin, which is on display in the shop.

The Argus: Amy Harrison outside The Spice ShopAmy Harrison outside The Spice Shop (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

She said: “Trade is good in general, we never do badly, we always do amazing at weekends. Rain always makes a bit of a difference, but people come in to shelter from the rain and end up buying stuff. In the summer, we keep the door open, and the smell of the spices draws people in.”

The Argus: Inside The Spice ShopInside The Spice Shop (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

Shoppers seemed unaware of these issues as many admired Gardner Street's unique and exciting atmosphere.

Alice Bast, an Italian university student visiting Brighton, said: “I like Gardner Street, it’s not very crowded. I prefer smaller shops to high street shops when I am on vacation. I like to go to little shops. This street is colourful. I like it.”

The Argus: Jane Harris and Linda Tune on Gardner StreetJane Harris and Linda Tune on Gardner Street (Image: Nadia Abbas/ The Argus)

Jane Harris, a care assistant from Havant, said: “I think Gardner Street is lovely.

"We do not have anything like this where we live.

"I like the variety of pubs, shops, and the people buzzing around. We would come to Gardner Street again."