BISHOP’S Waltham’s High Street appears to be bucking a nationwide trend.
While some economists fear the UK may slip back into recession, the past year has seen at least seven new shops open in the town centre, with retailers clambering for units.
Parish Councillor Barry Nicholson said: “There’s a general buzz in Bishop’s Waltham at the moment and part of it is down to the feeling that the town has a unique character in terms of its town centre and we have a wide range of shops, to such a degree that if a shop becomes available there is a queue because independent traders want to trade here and the rates are at a reasonable level.”
Kevin Duncan works at the Bishop’s Waltham Toy Box owned by his wife, Emma. They opened in October last year.
Mr Duncan said: “Certain shops suit certain areas. It’s very traditional as a town and we thought a wooden toy shop would be a good fit. I would not have put it in Eastleigh, for example.”
But the impending Sainsbury’s superstore has sparked fierce debate, with concern among some residents and retailers that it will have an adverse effect on the character of the market town.
One trader even told the Chronicle they were not prepared to discuss their pro-Sainsbury’s stance for fear of a backlash from customers opposed to the store.
But Steve Miller, chairman of the town’s chamber of trade, said: “The people opening new businesses here don’t think that. I think there’s a general feeling that the people who want to survive will have to deliver a high service – which they are all doing at the moment.”
Chris Greenfield, proprietor of Durley Framing, moved in to his premises on the High Street in June.
“I’m actually now looking for a bigger site. It seemed the right sort of area but I had no idea it would be this busy. I was hoping to do it part-time initially. There’s a strong local feeling in Bishop’s Waltham and I think some people feel threatened by the Sainsbury’s.
"People do not want to be taken over by the nationals. I’m quite neutral about it though and I think it would probably increase my business rather than do any damage to it,” he said.
Barbara Nicholson and Susan Short opened boutique clothes shop Cassis six months ago.
Barbara said: “I think Sainsbury’s is going to be a good thing for the town. Most women I know from the town tend to drive to Hedge End or Winchester or Fareham to use big stores there. I think it will bring more people from the outskirts into Bishop’s Waltham. It will make us independent traders up our game.”
Craig Matthews, who owns sports shop Chocolate Flip Flop, which opened in September, said: “It’s a very well populated village, retail-wise. There are not many empty units and not many sites come up.
“I’m not as concerned about Sainsbury’s as I would be if I was the butcher or the veg shop. But it will undoubtedly affect them more than me.”
Sharon Bevis, who took over Barrington’s Delicatessen ten months ago, said she felt it was a good place to do business having shopped in the town for the past ten years.
“It’s such a lovely high street. It’s almost like coming back in time. Most of the shops are independent and people can have a bit of social interaction rather than just pushing a trolley around a huge supermarket,” she said.
The town failed last year to secure a £100,000 Mary Portas high street grant, but the parish then successfully applied for a one-off £10,000 grant.
Those funds have been earmarked for a ‘town centre manager’ and in September Barry Nicholson told the Chronicle that the initiative was partly a response to the new Sainsbury’s.
“A town centre administrator would oversee marketing for the town with a view to boosting Bishop’s Waltham’s profile, for both business and tourism. We’re looking to pre-empt any potential after-effects that might arise from the Sainsbury’s store,” he said.