Is Twickenham turning into one big ‘to let’?

So, is Twickenham turning into one big ‘to let’? Well, next time you’re out look up above the line of the shop fronts and one feature repeats itself over and over again, the “to let” board. For those in steady work the recession might not feel too real. Yes, the pay rise might have been more modest or even zero, yes there are budget cuts, and perhaps a friend of a friend has been made redundant. And if you’re the one who’s lost their job then clearly that takes matters to a much higher level of stress and worry. But what about a town itself? What happens when recession strikes there?

Character building?
Let’s be honest, Twickenham is not a one industry town where the closure of the factory throws hundreds out of work.

Shop to let - Twickenham

Twickenham is an affluent outer suburb in an affluent city. Nevertheless, changing shopping habits and the effects of recession have crept insidiously down the high street. London Road, Richmond Road, King Street, Heath Road. These streets easily have a dozen vacant shops, offices and pubs between them. Are these businesses even missed? In some cases yes, but the terrible thing is that in many cases they probably aren’t. Can you even remember what some of them were before? You miss your usual café, you go to Starbucks instead. You want phone accessories, you buy them online. You need a haircut, there’s another one opposite. You want second-hand books, you go to a different charity shop.

However, what’s been lost should not measured in terms of products on shelves but in terms of the character of the town. Each closure, each empty shop takes something away. Fewer shops means less variety, less money going to local traders. More vacant offices means fewer people buying their lunchtime sandwiches and stocking up on essentials. So will it ever improve? Well, yes of course. Bust will inevitably be followed by boom (unless you’re Gordon Brown who thought he’d broken that economic cycle). Retail and office space will fill up again but what we get next won’t be the same as what went before. Sometimes this can be a good thing, shops selling stuff that no one wants either need to change or be replaced, but in tough times there’s little time to adapt and it’s those with the deepest pockets that survive. And of course there’s not much of a correlation between money and character (you can look at Heat magazine to show you that).

Every little helps?
Once they’ve gone, it’s hard to see independent shops returning in anything like the same numbers although there is always some scope for the niche retailer. You’re more likely to get a big name than a local entrpreneur. Case in point: the Tesco Express at the Green end of Heath Road is already proving popular to the detriment of the local traders in the vicinity. Three months of facing up to Tesco promotions and having their prices scrutinised by the boys in blue has been an awfully long haul for the small shopkeepers nearby. But remember folks, “Every little helps”. It’s a brilliant pocket-patting, super-chummy, bezzie-mate kind of slogan. But who is it really helping? Who are the ultimate beneficiaries when a parade of shops stands empty? The local community or the nation’s largest supermarket chain?

Likewise for the rest of central Twickenham. When the good times return, will those empty shops be home to pound shops and national chains with computerised pricing models or will they fill with something more interesting?

Another closed shop in Twickenham

Twickenham already grapples with something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Church Street, the river, Marble Hill Park, Eel Pie Island on the one hand versus the roar of buses on King Street, Poundland and Regal House on the other. The truth is, we probably do need a bit of both, after all not many people do all their weekly shop at the Farmers’ Market. But achieving a balance is tricky and once character has gone it’s hard to bring it back with any real authenticity. So, will Twickenham find this balance or will deep pockets prevail as it slips in to becoming “just another High Street”? But remember, it’s partly in your hands. That’s something to ponder on when next using the auto-checkout at Tesco or sipping your latte in Starbucks.

So, with so many empty units at the moment, what type of shops do we need to complement the town? And what could the twickerati live without? You can always vote with your wallet on the high street or be a reet lazy sod and just add your comments below.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Is Twickenham turning into one big ‘to let’?

  1. Maria: there is a butcher in St Margaret’s, close by the railway station:

    Armstrong’s Family Butchers
    11 St Margarets Road
    http://www.stmgrts.org.uk/directory/grocery/200709131503

  2. Eel Pie

    Twickenham’s retail problems are deep-seated and complex and there is no quick-fix solution. Sadly the cons of running a shop here outweigh the pros for many reasons.

    I think our biggest problem (speaking as a retailer myself) is simply lack of footfall. Whilst we have a loyal local customer base there is simply very little to attract outsiders to Twickenham, and local support really isn’t enough to keep us all going. Sandwiched as we are between two major retail towns we are always going to struggle to be a ‘shopping destination’. Church Street is beautiful & has some great shops, restaurants & pubs but if you didn’t know about it and just drove through the high street what on earth is there to even make you want to stop, let alone have a day out here? And even if you did want to stop, the parking issues might make you think twice. The council have always maintained that parking doesn’t have an adverse affect on trade but they lie! If I had a pound for everyone who has to rush out of the shop for fear of a ridiculous fine I might be more able to afford the ludicrous business rates that we pay.

    We have a traders association in Church St, with many of us donning other hats to become events organisers, graphic designers, meeting co-ordinators etc etc, all in an attempt to raise our profile, but once the music has stopped, the stalls been packed away and the balloons all been popped we are left with the daily battle to entice customers to our lovely shops. We have discussed ideas such as loyalty cards, but the reality of attempting to co-ordinate such schemes has made them non-starters. Just the amount of extra time needed, let alone the expertise, to organise promotions and events means that good ideas often don’t see fruition. We all have our day jobs to get on with!

    I think if we could condense all that is good about Twickenham – the specialist shops, the farmers market, the independent service-type businesses, into a smaller, shopper-friendly ‘town centre’ area and turn the riverside site into something useful we might have something to build upon. Unfortunately that aint gonna happen unless someone has a magic wand to shrink the too-long high street, do away with the over-zealous traffic wardens & turn Twickenham into a place that outsiders want to visit.

    So all I can say is thank you to those who do make the effort to support us small shops. We simply can’t compete with the huge choice & bargain prices offered by bigger retailers & online stores but hope that the experience of proper one-on-one service & knowledge of our products goes some way to making you all come back. It’s the lovely customers who keep me going alot of the time & make up for my appalling hourly rate!

  3. Maria

    Would be great to see some pop up shops fill the empty shells until something else is found. In a way – it’s good that the highstreet is not full of the same brands – but there’s not much of a compromise. Is there one single decent clothes shop on the Kings Street/Heath Road…?

    Why isn’t the council trying to bring in some creativity to the town?

    And we need a decent boulangerie. Though don’t want to tread on Belmont’s toes – it is largely very english. Is there a butchers in Twickers by the way?

  4. Twicken George

    Twickenham risks losing the things that differentiate it from other outer London suburbs. Some of this is probably an inevitable continuation of a trend that’s been going on for decades but the bland high street is always a depressing sight. Maybe there needs to be the creation of something like a “My Twickenham” brand with local retailers getting together to promote local shopping generally rather than themselves. Could offer loyalty cards or “shop local” days across participating stores, something that covers the independent traders across the whole town centre.