Thursday, 21 October 2021

Pop-up shops could help disguise vacant premises

A BUSINESSWOMAN from Henley has proposed a new use for the growing number of empty shops in the town.

A BUSINESSWOMAN from Henley has proposed a new use for the growing number of empty shops in the town.

Louise Tippey says vacant units could be filled by pop-up shops, a type of short-term temporary lease which is being trialled in other towns and cities.

The former model, who runs an internet company called Fleur Fashion Styling, opened a pop-up shop in Camberley last week and says similar opportunities should be available in Henley.

She is renting a pitch in a disused shop which was recently bought and renovated by the store chain John Lewis for two weeks. It is her first foray into high street retail.

Ms Tippey, 45, is sharing the 300sq ft premises with several dozen independent traders, each of whom will have their own concession.

At the end of the fortnight, she will hand her pitch over to another small business.

The pilot project will last for six weeks and is funded by the Government’s StartUp Britain scheme in partnership with John Lewis. Traders are charged £100 a week to take part.

Ms Tippey, who lives in St Andrew’s Road with her 14-year-old son Jake, found out about the Camberley scheme on the internet and was accepted within 48 hours of applying. She then wrote to Henley town centre manager Peter McConnell asking for help launching a pop-up project locally following the succession of recent shop closures.

The town will soon have 17 empty stores as Kaliko in Market Place, Askew Art in Duke Street and Peruvian Connection in Bell Street shut in the next few weeks.

They follow the recent closures of Blockbuster, Bloc 2 Brazilian, Revolution and Blue Moon, all in Market Place, Down-To-Earth in Bell Street and the CMP motor spares outlet in Reading Road.

Ms Tippey said: “I thought that landlords in Henley could do with having people in empty shops temporarily and getting more money from their properties. All of us who are taking part at Camberley are start-ups. We have all been online but don’t have the experience or the money to commit to a high street retail lease.

“Pop-ups are good for new companies because you only pay a nominal sum and in exchange you can actually meet your customers to get feedback about what they like or don’t like.

“I definitely think it could work in Henley. We have to try something new — I know we are very traditional and that’s fantastic in some ways but the old model isn’t working.

“We have shops closing down every week at the moment so why not be one of the first towns in the country to give it a go? It’s better to have something than an empty shop.

“I imagine many landlords have big portfolios and aren’t too concerned about one property being vacant but an empty shop looks awful.

“We have the regatta coming up and that’s the one chance we have to show Henley off to the world. The summer is when we come into bloom and we have to show ourselves in the best possible light.”

Mr McConnell has asked Ms Tippey to put her proposal in writing so that he can show it to landlords.

He said: “People have tried pop-up shops in lots of different towns, some more successfully than others. They can be a great way for young businesses to experiment with high street trading.

“We would like to try them in Henley, though it is a matter of reaching agreement with the landlords or their agents to make it work.

“I think it is a brilliant idea and I know Louise is not the only person to suggest it — the girls who run the Love Local markets at the town hall have also been talking about it. I will certainly help in whatever way I can.”

As the Henley Standard has reported, many local businesses have blamed high rent and business rates for their demise. But South Oxfordshire District Council, which is responsible for collecting business rates says it can’t simply reduce business rates because they are set according to a Government formula.

Cllr Judith Nimmo Smith, cabinet member for economic development, said: “Other market towns in the district, such as Thame, have a strong community of independent retailers, so I have asked our economic development team to investigate whether these problems are specific to Henley.

“I have also asked our property team to put together a list of all the agents who are acting for landlords with empty premises so that we can find out what is happening there. We cannot control the rents that people pay but it would be interesting to see whether that is a factor. It’s possible that rents are coming up for renewal and landlords are all putting rents up.

“From a landlord’s point of view, the value of a property is relative to the health of the market. I’m sure they would want to see the local economy thriving to boost the value of their properties.”

The council’s economic development plan for Henley outlines 20 action points, including a £3,800 marketing drive to promote the town’s arts festivals, a £1,500 retail training project for local businesses and £18,750 worth of street furniture improvements.

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