A once-bustling York shopping mall is slowly becoming an empty-windowed "ghost arcade", worried traders fear.

Two more traders are due to leave Stonegate Walk, leaving only seven of its 23 shops still occupied.

The occupancy has not been as bad since the 1980s when the 100-yard stretch of shops linking Stonegate to Blake Street had just four operating units.

After five landlords came and went, failing to lure shops and shoppers into the glass-covered mall, Fenchurch Nominees of London bought the site six years ago, lowered rents, made leases more flexible, called in the brass bands and hanging baskets and the place bloomed and boomed.

Now the gaps are beginning to show again.

Among traders who have moved out recently are the Heraldic Art and Design shop, which transferred to Shambles, and a chocolate shop, now in The Pavement, York.

There are "to let" signs on what was Heirlooms, and two empty shops have been partially filled with stock by nearby tenants to ensure that they do not look too desolate.

The Lace Box, run by John and Celia Bateman, is set to close in November at the end of its lease and Femme Fatale hairdressers closes on May 9 to re-open in expanded premises in Fossgate on May 12.

Femme Fatale proprietor Valerie Smith said: "We are leaving after five years to expand into the beauty side and need larger premises, but there is no doubt that Stonegate Walk has been going downhill over the last nine months. It's very sad."

Among reasons, she said, were high rents and rates. "I have paid about £25,000 a year plus a service charge," she said.

John Tinley, a partner at ACR Gibbs Hale, the London managing agents since just before Christmas, said: "We have now just agreed the biggest budget Stonegate Walk has ever had for advertising and promotion and to introduce entertainment for the summer.''

He said that flexible terms were being offered on the empty shops, including short-term leases. "We have had an awful lot of interest," he said.

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