Perhaps this is a good time to look again at our town centre and particularly its retailing and commercial “health”.
There has been a recent report, produced by the British Retail Consortium, that indicates that footfall in shopping centres nationally is again reducing by about 1.4 per cent on a year ago.
It has increased however in out-of-town retail parks by some 1.9 per cent, all quite predictable really.
The report states that the vacancy rate for town centre retail units increased from July’s rate of 10.1 per cent to 10.3 per cent in October, a trend certainly going the wrong way.
We don’t know how our town actually compares with all these figures but one can assume that they are not too far out. It really does seem that we can get no real momentum going at the present time. One shop opens and another closes.
How unfortunate it is to see our local hardware shop close after all those years of trading. Part of the reason no doubt is that a “multiple” store has arrived in town and consequently pushed out at least one local retailer.
Fewer and fewer truly independent traders continue to exist amongst us and it must be a concern for our town’s continuing commercial health.
There are rumours, and let’s hope that is all that they are, that another estate agent is arriving shortly together with another charity shop. In fairness, the BRC report goes on to suggest that “pop-up” shops, community spaces and any other idea that ensure that the footfall in town centres is maintained, if not increased, has to be considered.
On this same theme it is good to see that the old JB’s cafe will soon be open again, with this being so central. In modern parlance the new fascia signage is certainly in yer face!
Our Christmas lights will soon be cheering up the area around the market place. The Business Forum have once again taken responsibility for their installation and a fine job they have done, with the help of “our Les” and his scaffolding company together with “Our Graham” from the council.
What is surprising however, and certainly disappointing, is the low level of support from some businesses.
It seems on the face of it that most of this desperately needed financial support has once again come from our independent traders. Some bigger shops which shun helping should realise that they are very much part of our local community and they need, for their own good, to support it to the hilt. Similarly our councillors also need to step forward as one to ensure that the festivities associated with the lights “switch on” are a success. They have taken responsibility, commendably, for organising it. Other volunteers will undoubtedly be needed and will be willing to help but it is a council event
Finally, once all the lighting is completed by the Forum it will be illuminated in an effort to draw trade in to the town as soon as is possible. It will then be switched off, only to be switched on again, officially, on the eve of December 7.
No doubt some of the impact that could have been achieved will be unfortunately lost, but with the late switch on date organised as it is, it has to be this way.