Monday, 29 November 2021
TRADERS in Henley are bouncing back after the coronavirus pandemic, writes Anna Colivicchi.
The number of empty shops in the town centre is now 15, including two units at the new Gardiner Place development, off Market Place.
With a total of about 172 retailers, it means the shop vacancy rate is now less than nine per cent, compared with the national rate of almost 16 per cent.
Many new businesses have opened since the coronavirus restrictions were eased in May.
These include children’s clothes shop Tigers and Tiaras in Duke Street, Henley Scan and Sofa & Stuff in Reading Road, the Head Gardener barbershop and the Children’s Shop in Gardiner Place and the Daisy Love café in Station Road.
Several more are due to open, including Stable 34, a new pizza restaurant which will take over the former Cherwell Windows premises in Hart Street, a florist which will open in the alleyway off Hart Street where Jimmy Cuba’s “secret” record store used to be, cheese and wine restaurant the Cheesy Grape, which is to open in Market Place, and the Côte Restaurant, which is due to open at the former Monsoon and Accessorize units on the corner of Hart Street and Bell Street early next year.
Henley Mayor Sarah Miller said: “It is extremely important that we support our local retailers — their success is the lifeblood of the town’s economic future.
“When we spend locally it helps stimulate the local economy and keeps businesses booming. This prosperity in turn means that we have a living, breathing town and somewhere the younger generation can and will want to live in.
“This is critical for the future of Henley.
“These days it’s far too easy to order online — we click and the item appears on our doorstep.
“This immediacy and convenience is at the expense of human interaction and what it means to support the local economy and families.
“I’m immensely proud of Henley and the diversity our high street offers shoppers. We must continue to support all our local retailers and businesses.”
Niki Schäfer, who chairs the Henley Business Partnership, said: “I’m pleased with how our shops are doing at the moment.
“Lockdown has definitely had an impact on our habits when it comes to shopping and we have seen what it means to run a local business.
“Some of our retailers did everything possible to help the community during the pandemic and, as shoppers, we should try to support them in return.
“The people who have chosen to come and open a shop in Henley had to be really committed — you really have to do all you can, not only to make sure you can afford to be here but also that you can stay for the long term.
“At the Henley Business Partnership, we have up to 80 local businesses attending our meetings and coming along is a really good way of meeting other business owners.”
The owners of new businesses say they are glad to have opened.
Eva Rickett, who runs Henley Scan with her husband Graham, took over an empty unit in Reading Road in August, having previously operated from their home in King’s Road for three years.
They restore old media, such as photographs, slides, negatives, videos, camcorder tapes and 8mm cine films.
Mrs Rickett said: “We’ve had a lot of people coming through the door, saying how wonderful it is to have something a bit different in Henley.
“We have had people driving in to see us from Sonning, Caversham and Reading and further afield. We always try to encourage them to then make a day of it and spend some time and money in Henley.
“We are always busy around Christmas, especially because people like to share their memories during the festive season, and I’m hoping it will be the same this year.
“It’s important that people think and shop local because then the money stays here and we all benefit from it. It makes the town alive.
“Henley is an amazing town, with lots of lovely shops and lovely people, and we hope it stays that way.”
Lorna Dunlop, who is to open a new florist’s shop, has moved from Edinburgh, where she ran a flower shop for 10 years.
The shop will offer workshops and flower art classes and will be turned into a grotto for Christmas.
Ms Dunlop, who lives in Bell Street, said: “I came to the town for the first time during lockdown and had a look at the shop that I’m now taking over. I felt there was a need for a new florist and flower school in Henley.
“I managed to enjoy some of the regatta and the festival and got to know my way around the town so that I can deliver the flowers myself once the shop is up and running. Flowers are my therapy and my saviour. Becoming a florist was a huge career change for me — I was an accountant and after an illness I reassessed my life and decided I’d rather do something creative that also had that human interaction.
“I’m a member of the British Florist Association and am looking forward to involving children with the workshops and the Christmas grotto.”
Patrick Brown runs FourState in Duke Street, which opened in October last year and sells eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical products.
It has two sister stores in Marlow and Windsor, which he runs with friend Rob Kemp.
Mr Brown said: “Henley has been absolutely amazing at supporting us and it has quickly become our best store and the best risk we have ever taken.
“We were not sure we could make it work but we have and have now moved our offices here as we are here the most and we love it.
“The customers are so lovely and our staff always say Henley is their favourite store to work in.
“Shopping locally brings the town together and choosing to go into shops in the high street has helped people getting back into the habit after the pandemic.
“It feels safer than going to a big shopping centre and you also get that human connection you don’t get in big stores.”
David Rodger-Sharp, who runs jewellery shops in Duke Street and Bell Street, said: “It’s massively important that people support local businesses as the money then stays locally and benefits the people of the town.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot of money and it can really make all the difference.
“I have encouraged many people to open a shop in Henley as it has such a friendly community and a fantastic range of shops.
“With most of these people, they were going to open their shop anyway, it was just about offering support and answering questions.
“When you open a shop there’s so much that needs to be done and it can seem quite daunting.
“I didn’t know any of it three years ago but having other retailers and a community that supports you really helps.
“We have a great community of retailers and we all have the same goal of seeing the businesses in the town succeed.
“To walk down the high street and see so many independent shops is wonderful and we should celebrate it.”
Naughty Mutt Nice, a dog grooming parlour, moved into the former In The Groove record shop in Reading Road in July.
It had spent 12 years in a unit at the junction with Station Road, which is still vacant.
Karole Robertson, who owns the business, said: “We loved that little corner but we needed more space as we had an increasing number of customers and puppies.
“With lockdown we got busier and wanted to be more comfortable. We didn’t suffer as much as the hospitality and travel businesses and we carried on working for the welfare of the animals.
“During lockdown, more people realised they wanted to adopt a dog to make their house feel more like a home and we definitely felt an increase in customers because of that.
“Opening the new shop went smoothly and everything fell into place quite quickly. Being a bit closer to the centre of town, we’ve had more people popping in and having a look and it has been really nice to be able to talk to more people and new customers.”
Shoe shop Cecilia Quinn moved to Bell Street from Hart Street, where its former premises are still empty.
Claudia de Biasi, who runs the business, said: “Had we stayed in Hart Street, I don’t think we would have survived the pandemic.
“Changing our location made a big difference and we are now closer to other fashion retailers and I think that has helped us a lot. We have more space for the stock and bigger premises and more people coming in to see us.
“We opened in Hart Street just before the pandemic so, in a sense, lockdown made the decision for us — it made us realise that location wasn’t right.
“We are still not out of the woods — we are slowly catching up after being closed for so long. Our clients were very loyal and that is encouraging.
“It’s important that people keep shopping locally and that local shops bring something unique and beautiful to the table.”
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