Waitrose are about to start a £3 million refurbishment of their town centre store; Next are currently adding over 1,000 square feet at first floor level and refitting throughout; Monsoon have relocated to larger premises in the High Street and there have been recent store openings for Claire’s, The White Stuff and Costa Coffee. Both Strada and Zizzis have had complete makeovers; Wilkinsons have rebranded with a new fascia and new store layout; Asda have invested in huge improvements with their takeover of the old Netto store and the imminent opening of Peacocks and Poundland after the multi million pound refurbishment of an old Woolworths store will bring the High Street back to full occupancy.
And it’s not just national multiples either – the air of optimism has encouraged independents to open or enhance their businesses. Third generation family store Kenmore Interiors has relocated, more than doubling the size of their display space; Colanders Cookware is expanding in to a third unit, making it even more of a destination store; a former nightclub is being totally refurbished to become a sizeable new restaurant; four new hair and beauty businesses have opened; Cane & Able Mobility has expanded into much larger premises and the Car Agents Auto Lounge brings an innovative and exciting new way of buying and selling sports/premium cars to the town.
Of course, there are still concerns for the future because of the global economic problems but Hitchin is maintaining a vacancy rate of around 6% against a national average of almost 15% - with some towns and cities suffering with up to 40% of retail premises empty.
The Chairman of Hitchin Initiative, Brent Smith said “this is a tremendous vote of confidence in our town and reflects the hard work of our town centre partnership over the last 16 years. More recently, our efforts with Hitchin Market, now in community ownership, led to a renaissance - against the national trend - and we now open four days each week to meet the demand.”
Town Centre Manager, Keith Hoskins said “We recognised long ago that a successful town has to offer so much more than sterile shopping malls – character, history, street activity, events, festivals and a safe, pleasant and welcoming environment encourages visitors and creates better trading conditions. As just one example, in July our month-long and hugely successful Hitchin Festival brings a host of visitors to the town. Its feature event, the internationally lauded Rhythms of the World 2 day music festival, was attended by more than 30,000. Our acclaimed Business Improvement District (BID) Scheme ensures that we are able to address and fund business priorities in marketing and in looking after our town.
We are not complacent and we do recognise the fragile state of the economy but Hitchin provides proof that businesses working together effectively with the Local Authorities and committed community organisations serve a town very well.”
Hitchin MP, Peter Lilley added “This dynamism is a tribute to local business people, the Hitchin Initiative and the positive attitude of Hitchin people. I hope it will show other towns across the country that whatever the problems of the world economy, success is possible for those willing to invest in their vision of the future."