Parking and road closures - a traders' perspective
I would like to add my comments to those made by Bob Holman in his recent e-mail.
My wife, Kirsten Valentiner, and I own and operate Valentiner Designs which is a gift shop located at 112 High Street Marlborough. We are opposite Polly’s, and sandwiched between David Dudley and The Royal Oak.
We open our shop on 5th April 2013 and so have only been trading some nine months. However in that time we have witnessed the High Street being closed - or severely restricted to traffic - what seems to be on excess number of occasions.
Firstly the road was severely restricted for some 4 weeks while the main sewerage was repaired/replaced. The disruption associated with these activities extended to many of the parking bays unaffected by the road repairs were then cordoned off to allow the vehicles - and rubble and building materials - to be stored on the High Street rather than finding a more appropriate dumping ground such as the amenity waste area in Kelham Gardens formerly owned by Thames Water which is basically waste land and only a short distance from the High Street.
Then we had the closure for the Jazz Festival - despite the fact that the only reason was so that the area close to The Parade could be used for outdoor dining. This seemed a little strange in that the business interests of the entire High Street could be ignored to allow a single trader to profit from the closure.
In the late summer we then had eight weeks of road resurfacing. Once again this was a very disruptive period for the High Street and once again the central parking bays were commandeered for rubbish dumps, etc.
This was quickly followed by the two Mops and I won’t spend any more time rehearsing the long held views in this regard other than to say that the 2 Fridays before the Mops made the High Street feel more like an abandoned shanty town.
The most recent events were those surrounding the Remembrance Day and the Military Parade. Again these have been covered in great detail by others so I will not add to their comments.
There is a common link between all these events however and a link that others have raised but where I feel we should add our comments and that is with regards to the extremely poor signage and seemingly thoughtless use of the terminology that is likely to discourage shoppers from entering the High Street even when it is not closed.
So why are we writing when just about everything possible has been said already and by those who have greater experience of the various issues?
Well it is true we don’t have decades of trading history in our Marlborough shop to base our views upon, but what we do have is the benefit of being local residents and now local independent traders.
We can also personally call upon the lessons of 40 years in multiple retail in some of the biggest - and smallest - towns and cities across the UK and Europe. So hopefully together our insights are of some value.
We can’t tell you if the Mops or Jazz Festivals and Memorial Services are great for the culture of the town as that is something for those with much greater understanding of those matters to judge the merits and value created.
However views come from the perspective of new eyes on our beloved High Street as we only opened our shop in April having waited 4 years to find the right location in our home town of Marlborough.
We are huge supporters of the town and whenever possible we extoll its virtues both as a residential town and a shopping oasis. We also have a policy wherever possible of supporting local traders whether that be shops, restaurants, garages, solicitors or accountants.
You can only imagine our excitement when we became aware that 112 High Street came on the market. It is slap bang in the middle of town on the north side of the street. It has 3 trading floors and bags of storage and administrative space. Since then we have been very happy trading in the town and we have already generated a good level of business and have a surprising number of loyal customers.
What our customers have in common with each other is that they enjoy shopping and eating out in Marlborough. It's somewhere special and they travel for very long distances to visit the town. They come from Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Hampshire, Wales, Birmingham, Gloucester, etc.
When we ask them why they enjoy Marlborough so much the usual reply is that we have such a great choice of independent and small multiple retailers, we have great places to eat and we have a very interesting town and surrounding area. None of these will surprise anyone. Not at all a surprise is the large volume of shoppers who live in Swindon but choose to make the commute to Marlborough for a “nice day out”.
They all really love our town and are very envious that they don’t have such facilities local to them. We have many customers asking us to open up in their town to help it to become a nicer place.
However they do have two pet hates:
These two gripes are very closely linked.
In our modern age we are all looking for convenience and ease of activities. We actively seek to spend our time - and our money - in those areas and activities which are most relaxing and stress free.
Well that sums up Marlborough with the exception of those two bugbears above.
When you can find a shopping space it is for such a limited amount of time. Many don’t even mind paying to park as so many other towns do charge. However if you are going to pay then you would like the convenience of being able to combine a leisurely stroll around the myriad of shops as well as enjoy a relaxing meal .. and perhaps even have time to go back to one or two of those nice shops after a reflection over lunch.
Well with a maximum of two hours on the High Street that feels very pressured. I know that there are alternative parking areas where they can stay for longer and I point that out on every possible occasion. However it is then too late as they have already parked. Let's hope they remember next time. What would really help are clearly displayed informative signs that guide visitors to “Long Stay Car Parks”. This doesn’t seem too onerous as many towns and cities already do this very successfully. Not trying to re-invent any wheels.
However the biggest irritant for our shoppers is without a doubt - ROAD CLOSURES !!
It doesn’t need to be a real road closure, or even an all day road closure, it may just be a temporary closure - such as for the recent memorial service. But the stark reality is that if there is even a sniff, a glimmer, a possibility of a closure then that means - EVEN FEWER PARKING SPACES. And that means very many regulars will stay away - in the droves. We live in Marlborough and before opening our shop we would avoid Marlborough town centre like the plague if there was a road closure.
So what is even worse than knowing that there is going to be a road closure - simple - NOT KNOWING that there is going to be a road closure. What is definitely worse is travelling all the way from Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Wales, etc only to find a big yellow sign telling you - or at least appearing to tell you - that Marlborough High Street is CLOSED. What would you do? Firstly drive off to Hungerford, Devizes or even Bath, and secondly think very carefully before setting off for Marlborough again.
So what are the lessons from these anecdotes and recollections? Do they have any real value or are they just gripes without foundation? Many would say that we knew all of this before we started out and others would say that they must be doing alright any way. Yes, all of those are fair comments and perfectly true. But this note isn’t to moan and groan about poor management or lack of appreciation by others of the plight of retailers, but our comments are merely given here to see if we can make Marlborough an even nicer place to visit.
A better experience all round - better shops, better restaurants, better parking, better communication, better relationships with our community and visitors and a better sense of pride and enthusiasm in all that Marlborough stands for Past, Present and Future.
Paul Collis & Kirsten Valentiner