ONE of Wallingford’s longest serving independent retailers is to close after 36 years in the town.

Managers at the Market Place electrical shop Astley’s say they cannot compete with online and chain retailers and will close.

Owner Gareth Astley, 56, said: “After 36 years Astley’s is set to close its doors for the last time at the end of March.

“The business was started on April 20, 1975, as a HiFi and record shop, and has seen all the technological changes from vinyl disc to CD and from cathode ray televison, to plasma, LCD, and now LED TV.

“It’s very sad for the shop, the staff and the town, but pressure from online music downloads, online Internet purchasing, and manufacturers’ lack of support for small independent retailers has forced the closure and five staff redundancies.

“The cold weather meant we had a bad Christmas and after the VAT increase we had to say enough is enough.”

The shop’s employees include Mr Astley’s wife, Deborah, and Julian Howes, who has worked there for almost 30 years.

Mr Astley’s father, Edwin, a TV music composer who died in 1997, also worked at the shop.

Town leaders said they were saddened by the news.

Wallingford Business Partnership spokesman Elaine Hornsby said: “It’s very sad to hear that Astley’s is closing and after 36 years, it’s the end of an era.

“It’s a tough time for retailers at the moment in Wallingford and rents in the town are quite high so I think we are going to see fewer and fewer independent stores over the next few years.” Mrs Hornsby said she would struggle to keep open her 30-year-old clothes business, First Edition, if she did not own the Market Place premises.

She said: “Wallingford is a great little town with lots of independents but we are competing with department stores and people buying goods over the Internet.”

“I suspect that shoppers have been going to Gareth’s store, speaking to his knowledgeable staff about the latest TVs, and then going online to buy them. Businesses selling goods online don’t have the same overheads that we do and you can understand some customers looking for the best price.

“But there has to be a way of keeping our little towns alive. Manufacturers, wholesalers and landlords have to be more supportive of small businesses.”

Town clerk Andrew Rogers said: “It’s very sad that Astley’s is closing because it is one of the town’s flagship independent retailers.

“Wallingford prides itself on the large proportion of independent stores in the town and we hope another independent retailer comes in to take the place of Astley's."