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Sunday, 15 December 2019
INDEPENDENT traders in Henley would like to see more parking available to improve footfall in the town.
They say that shoppers are put off by the lack of spaces and some want parking to be made free at certain times.
They spoke out after a call was made for residents to support the town’s independents and claims that shops are being forced to close by landlords increasing rents.
There are three public car parks in the town centre — Greys Road, King’s Road and Southfields (Goodall Close), which have a total of 542 spaces and are operated by South Oxfordshire District Council.
The King’s Road car park currently has only one entrance due to the Gardiner Place development, which will result in the loss of some spaces.
Visitors are also encouraged to use the car parks at the station and Henley Rugby Club but traders say the overall number of spaces is inadequate.
Laurence Morris, who owns a menswear shop, in Duke Street, said: “Henley is thriving in comparison to lots of other market towns but it is suffering from the same problems.
“In addition to the high rents that everyone complains about, the biggest problem we have is footfall and that comes down to parking.
“We are building more houses, which is going to increase the amount of traffic.
“We want to encourage these people to come into our shops but we have a big parking shortfall.”
Denise Fairbairn, of Manzana Shoes in Bell Street, said: “Parking is an issue. I think there should be a free hour or two.
“Something needs to be done to encourage more people to come to Henley as a shopping destination.”
Anthony Galloway, owner of Vintage Look in Hart Street, said: “When you look at some of the shops that have gone from the high street it is phenomenal. I think some of the independents are definitely struggling. The footfall is a big issue. We do well here because we are in a good location but in certain locations it is worse.
“Parking is the main issue for lots of businesses but it is also a reflection of what is happening in the rest of the country.”
Tom Tapper, assistant manager of Berries coffee shop in Hart Street, said: “Parking is definitely something that could be improved.”
He added: “The chains are trying to take over the coffee scene, so it would probably be a good idea for the independents to group together and support each other in whatever ways we can.”
Maryam Clifford-Turner, who runs Bagatelle Toys in Bell Street, said it was hard for small independents to match online prices. She said: “The high street is suffering at the moment. One of the problems we face is people coming into the shop and taking photographs of items and then going home and searching for them online. We try to price things as fairly as we can but no independent shop on the high street can keep up with the internet.
“There would not be a high street without the independents. It would be lost forever.
“We have seen a lot of different kinds of shops come and go in Henley and we don’t have that many.
“Rent is certainly something that could be kinder but some landlords seem happier to have empty units and ask for more money.”
Emma Downes, manager of the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street, said: “We have lots of lovely local support and we are doing well in the current climate but we know it could be a potential problem in the future.
“We take nothing for granted and we know that Amazon is a threat. Online shopping has caught up with a lot of businesses, not just book shops. But we think book shops are experiencing a resurgence. People still want a social experience when they go shopping and it is important to be able to offer that.”
Busby & Fox in Bell Street opened in March and sells women’s clothing, footwear, jewellery and accessories.
Kate Lynas, head of trade and marketing, said: “Christmas is an important season for any independent retailer and we have to make the best of the opportunity in front of us.
“I’m not going to deny it’s difficult out there at the moment — no retailer is safe — but this is a fantastic chance for us to show what makes us different and for shoppers to enjoy getting something special for their money.
“With such a healthy tourist industry, active events calendar and fantastic sense of local community, Henley should be the perfect place for small businesses to thrive.
“The more independent shops in town, the more interesting the variety of products and services on offer. A healthy local economy is all about diversity and personal interaction and thrives when retailers are able to do what they do best.”
Chloe James, trainee manager at Temptation Gifts in Bell Street, said: “It has been a very difficult time for businesses in Henley. Not a lot of people have been coming into the town.
“When you can buy everything on one website, it is a huge deal to lots of people. Unless you are selling something quite specific it is hard to get people to come to the shop. A lot of it comes down to convenience.”
Helen Barnett, town and community manager, said: “We are a medieval town which was not built for the car and most small towns with a population of 11,000 have a problem with parking.
“We are lobbying South Oxfordshire District Council to look at car parking and we are looking at every single option that we can to make Henley better but we would encourage people to think more green.
“We encourage people to use the long-term car parks at the rugby club and the station. Some people feel it is too far to walk but it is not that far away from the town centre.
“We are also looking at doing signage to tell people how long it takes to walk.”
Ms Barnett added: “We do accept that people might go to other places for their Christmas shopping before Henley but you can get everything you need here if you know where to look.
“It is important to create a wonderful experience when people do come and we try to make the town as attractive as possible. It is all about experiential shopping and the lovely environment that you are in.”
• Parking will be free in the South Oxfordshire District Council car parks in Henley on Tuesdays, December 3, 10 and 17 to encourage festive shoppers.
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