We’ve now listened a couple of times to last week’s broadcast by the borough council on Facebook. The council emphasised that it wants the town centre to ‘remain unique’. The council is not going to compete with eg Bracknell, but instead is going to focus on attracting independent shops.
This could be a good strategy. Bracknell has one of the lowest percentages of independent shops in the country. And (according to Google, so it must be true…) numerically, independent shops are in a healthier state than chains. Apparently this is partly because many coffee shops – a growth sector – are independent.
Camberley already has plenty of independents. Hairdressers, nail bars, franchises, restaurants, tattoo parlours, fabric shops, phone accessories and plenty of others. But we suspect that some of these have relatively low turnovers, and they can’t afford ‘high’ rents. So a strategy of concentrating on independents could mean a lower income for the town.
Note, we’ve said “COULD mean a lower income”. Other towns have a high proportion of independent shops, so how do they manage? What can we learn from them? But first, where are they? That’s a problem. Reportedly, Sparkhill has the highest proportion of independent shops. But Sparkhill is a Birmingham inner city area with a large population of ethnic minorities; it’s not a good model for Camberley. Where else to look?
You don’t have to spend long on Google to discover that Frome in Somerset is well-know for ‘specialising’ in independent retailers. (It was the subject of a radio programme perhaps a year ago when it was said that the town deliberately went down the ‘independent’ route to avoid becoming a commuter town for Bristol.) So, no doubt our council has been on a fact-finding mission to Frome, or somewhere similar, before deciding to focus on independent shops. Indeed, committing to a key strategy in the absence of any direct discussions to learn about its pros, cons and implications, might be seen as somewhat negligent.
(We haven’t been in Frome for a year or two. But here’s a photo taken during our last – wet! – visit.)
We’ve just mentioned ‘cons’. There are some, of course. A couple of weeks ago the SomersetLive website contained the following item:
“When we reported on the closure of Shoe Zone, we were inundated with comments from Frome residents.
Some were sad to see it go, with one person saying: “Just hope that it’s replaced with something affordable and not a trendy independent shop that only some people can shop in.
It also prompted a debate about what should take the store’s place with suggestions including a Pizza Express, Clarks and a Wetherspoons.”
It would appear that affordability, Pizza Express et al were viewed more favourably than trendy independence.