Blockbuster closing
Blockbuster closing

“If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say anything”. Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if we all kept to that mantra? Well yes, probably, but here at twickerati we’re not about to find out. Despite things being fairly quiet out there, we’re going to say something about it anyway.

The biggest news is probably the least unexpected, namely that Blockbuster has joined the long list of big name high street casualties. The chain is now in administration although northern-supermarket supremos Morrisons are in the market to buy 49 Blockbuster stores and turn them into Morrisons Locals. Will Blockbuster in Twickenham be one? Will Sean Bean’s dulcet tones soon be ringing out across Heath Road? We don’t know yet. The store is about the right size for a ‘local’ supermarket and in the current climate there might not be too many other retailers willing to take on a unit of that size. The twickerati view is that the best solution is to divide the current shop into several units accommodating, say, a charity shop, a café, and an Indian takeaway. This might work well given how lacking we are in such establishments in Twickenham at the moment. Would a Morrisons work? Who knows? There’s an M&S Food and an Iceland within 200 metres and a Waitrose and Tesco Express within 1/2 mile. Add to that the Sainsburys on Twickenham Green and numerous independents and one might feel there were already enough options to buy food locally.

And talking of the impending Sainsbury’s on The Green, we’re certainly no evangelists for supermarket chains but we have to say that some of the comments submitted to the El Brute licensing committee border on the hysterical. Yes, some have genuinely valid concerns but for a few others it’s as if the addition of another outlet for alcohol near the Green is going to lead to a complete breakdown of civil society and see Twickenham morph from leafy London suburb to post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque hell hole ruled by teenagers, powered solely by alcopops, Hollister T-shirts and iPhones and where words of more than one syllable are banned.

Opposite Blockbuster the former florist shop Chez Chevallier, the one that was both short-lived and a bit crap, has been re-let. We hear a rumour that a kitchen showroom will be moving in. Now, is there a big demand for new kitchens during a recession? Dunno. But what we do know is that a kitchen showroom would fit with the Council’s Twickenham Action Plan that dreams of having that stretch of Heath Road populated by such establishments. A DIY heaven, if you will. Or will it be a kitchen gadget shop, perhaps? We’ve heard it said that Twickenham lacks a place to purchase that oh-so-special lemon squeezer and so maybe that could work too. Anyone?

The Crown on Richmond Road? Remember when that used to be a working pub? Well, we’ve spotted a few signs of movement there. Is the long awaited refurb going to happen? Maybe it is. If so, then it could awaken to find a different pub-scene from when it closed many, many months ago. Given the positive foodie reviews coming in for Ales & Tails (York Street) and The Aleksander (Richmond Road) not to mention a recent refurb of The Bear (York Street), a rejuvenated Crown might have some stiff competition to contend with. But it has to re-open first.

Talking of recent openings, it’s great to see Rubens Bakery busy, especially at the weekends – people are loving Igor’s bread & pastries – while just over the road, Café Fresh is going to start opening (with BYO drinks) into the evenings. With COOK on London Road also proving popular, is Twickenham finally beginning to catch up with other ‘burbs in the foodie stakes? Actually, ‘The Foodie Stakes’ sounds a bit too horsey for our liking, so we’ll duck that question and quickly press on.

So what of trading condition generally? We asked Mike from Milestone Commercial for some top Twickenham tips. The man from Milestone he say this: “We appear to be entering into a fairly stable period which, after a pretty dismal run into Christmas with the demise of half a dozen premises, is probably no bad thing”.

With plenty of empty shops in Twickenham, any would-be new ventures don’t lack a choice of premises but Mike also pointed out how in the King Street area, “The voids are starting to hang around a little longer than one would hope. Many of the shops here are owned by a London investment vehicle and managed by London agents which is unfortunate as local agents work hard to keep the shops full or at least proactively marketed”.

And we also got some pointers from him that we can expect to see new businesses emerging at what were: Din’s Grill on York Street (a new cafe), JoJoLoo on Heath Road (a new spices and ingredients store) and maybe even some movement on re-letting the old Piano Lounge in an incarnation that’s very different from its previous one. And the old CAB office on Heath Road is also on the market with restaurant use.

Milestone Mike also gave a reminder that rising business rates continue to be a major problem for many companies, “The 2.6% rise businesses face in April 2013 comes after a 5.6% rise in 2012 and a 4.6% rise in 2011”. Ouch. But perhaps things aren’t totally grim. “It does feel like there’s an undercurrent of recovery,” he said. Let’s hope so.

And in another positive move, a Business Improvement District (BID) is being set up in Twickenham under the Time for Twickenham banner. BID panel member, Carla Knox of Sweet Memories, explained it to us: “The BID is an arrangement where businesses get together, decide what improvements they want to make in their town centre, how they will manage these and what it will cost them. This all goes into a business plan which is voted on by all those who would have to pay”. BIDs run for five years and need to demonstrate that they’re making improvements or delivering services over and above those already provided. If you ask our opinion, which you didn’t, we’d say that it sounds like a good bit of self-help.

So folks, we said there wasn’t much to say but maybe we got it wrong. Again. But don’t you worry about that, just stay tuned for more updates on a high street near you. (Err, that means Twickenham, obviously)