Independent shopkeepers say Witney is becoming chain store clone town

Witney Gazette: Chris Harris of Creative Cards, Jim Ashby from Rosa’s Floral Designs, Debbie Harris from the Old Studio, Dave Hackett of Hackett’s bar and restaurant, Sharon Buck from Chomsky’s and Rosa Ashby Buy this photo Chris Harris of Creative Cards, Jim Ashby from Rosa’s Floral Designs, Debbie Harris from the Old Studio, Dave Hackett of Hackett’s bar and restaurant, Sharon Buck from Chomsky’s and Rosa Ashby

A GROUP of independent shopkeepers has warned that Witney is becoming a “clone town” with chain stores taking over.

They told Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron of their fears at a face-to-face meeting.

Florist Rosa Ashby said she warned Mr Cameron that many feared they would be forced to close in the next 12 months.

Mrs Ashby has run Rosa’s Floral Designs, in Wesley Walk, for 16 years but fears the increase in national names in the town centre will mean specialist independent traders like her will not last much longer.

She presented a number of emails and letters to Mr Cameron last month and said she hoped he would help them.

Other businesses backing her call for action are The Old Studio in High Street, Artbox in Mill Walk and Creative Cards in High Street.

Mrs Ashby said there were now 30 national names in Witney and she said there were about the same number of independent shops.

She said many small businesses were struggling to cover their business rates bills.

Mrs Ashby pays £6,300 each a year and is unable to afford to take on more staff.

In recent years, a Morrisons, a 99p Store, Costa Coffee and a Caffe Nero have come to the town.

She said: “The rents, rates and VAT which we pay are getting out of control. All these big companies like Marks & Spencer sell a lot of the things which we as independent stores sell and it’s hard to go up against them.

“I hope Mr Cameron will do something to help us.

“We’re no longer a market town, we are becoming a clone town.”

Anne Constable, who has run Artbox for four years, pays about £40,000 a year to rent her shop and £1,000 a month in rates.

She said: “I honestly do believe that a lot of independents are going to be closed in the next year. I will struggle on but I can’t see me being here this time next year.”

Chomsky’s owner Sharon Buck said her coffee and sandwich shop had “no future”. She pays about £875 a month in rent and £85 a month in rates.

She said: “I will try to keep going as long as I can but it’s going to be hard.”

Mr Cameron said yesterday: “We need to do more to help our local businesses, and the Government I lead is committed to addressing the problems faced by small businesses and high streets.”

But Richard Langridge, who is West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet member for the local economy, said the larger stores brought shoppers into the town.

He said: “Independent traders are incredibly important and we value them highly. I hope their fears are completely groundless and I will do everything I can to ensure they stay in the town.

“But I do think these big shops are raising the profile of our town and it’s still very much a market town.”

The chairman of Witney Chamber of Commerce, Lesley Semaine, said: “There should always be a balance in a town with independent and big brands.

“Maybe people could be helped out with rates if that would help them get through.”

Comments (4)

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11:38am Wed 28 Aug 13

bobbylashley says...

How does a 99p shop and a two coffee shops effect shops selling art work and flowers.Plenty of empty shops in witney for those independants who want to expand.
How does a 99p shop and a two coffee shops effect shops selling art work and flowers.Plenty of empty shops in witney for those independants who want to expand. bobbylashley
  • Score: 7

12:46pm Wed 28 Aug 13

WitneyGreen says...

Unfortunately, the chains have come to Witney because they sell what people want to buy, and the town is noticeably busier since we had M&S, in particular, and the other shops in Marriott's Walk. However, we still have, and will continue to have, an excellent mix of chain and independent shops compared to other similar sized towns, and I think most shoppers are happy with this mix.

Some independent shops will thrive because they fill a niche and provide good value - Beanbag Health Food Shop, Sue Chinese Shop and the Church Green Cafe, for example. Others, such as the vastly overpriced florists and card shops mentioned above, and Chomskys, which serves bad coffee and has no customer loo (the basics of a good cafe!) will struggle to keep their businesses going unless they change to fit how people want to shop these days.

And quite why Dave Hackett is getting involved is beyond me - Hackett's is always full so surely he can have no complaints!
Unfortunately, the chains have come to Witney because they sell what people want to buy, and the town is noticeably busier since we had M&S, in particular, and the other shops in Marriott's Walk. However, we still have, and will continue to have, an excellent mix of chain and independent shops compared to other similar sized towns, and I think most shoppers are happy with this mix. Some independent shops will thrive because they fill a niche and provide good value - Beanbag Health Food Shop, Sue Chinese Shop and the Church Green Cafe, for example. Others, such as the vastly overpriced florists and card shops mentioned above, and Chomskys, which serves bad coffee and has no customer loo (the basics of a good cafe!) will struggle to keep their businesses going unless they change to fit how people want to shop these days. And quite why Dave Hackett is getting involved is beyond me - Hackett's is always full so surely he can have no complaints! WitneyGreen
  • Score: 7

9:23pm Wed 28 Aug 13

RuralResident says...

Witney is still a wonderful town compared with the multi-storey-car-par
k 'malls' that have taken over so many others.
Independent businesses will not survive unless they offer something that the Multiples cannot, and this can only mean friendly and efficient service.
But they cannot hope to attain the Multiples' 'turnover per square foot'. Business rates should be progressive in the same way as (say) income tax, so that the high volume pre-packaged-branded
-goods vendors contribute proportionately more to the Local Public Purse, and low-volume specialised businesses pay less than they do now.
Witney is still a wonderful town compared with the multi-storey-car-par k 'malls' that have taken over so many others. Independent businesses will not survive unless they offer something that the Multiples cannot, and this can only mean friendly and efficient service. But they cannot hope to attain the Multiples' 'turnover per square foot'. Business rates should be progressive in the same way as (say) income tax, so that the high volume pre-packaged-branded -goods vendors contribute proportionately more to the Local Public Purse, and low-volume specialised businesses pay less than they do now. RuralResident
  • Score: 3

6:56pm Thu 29 Aug 13

the wizard says...

Oh dear, it seems that some are afraid of a bit of competition. Twenty years ago you could hardly get a cup of tea or coffee in Witney ,. The Oven Door closed and the many small business's that traded from Waterloo Walk, ie Piggy Malones and some others all came and went.. Now we have a choice, which is good because not everyone likes a Costa Coffee or whatever.
The problem with the people above is all about advertising and marketing. The Old Coffee shop is geat, but it doesn't push itself forwards at passers by, as mentioned above Hackets is always busy, what do these people want, total monopoly, er.... sorry, nothanks.

Historically Witney has always been small town minded, people, including the traders, need to wake to the fact that they have had it far too cushy for far too long. Some Witney people I met twenty odd years ago had never in their lives been out of the borough, and many never beyond Oxford, and believe it or not some of that culture still exists today, sad though it is.
Oh dear, it seems that some are afraid of a bit of competition. Twenty years ago you could hardly get a cup of tea or coffee in Witney ,. The Oven Door closed and the many small business's that traded from Waterloo Walk, ie Piggy Malones and some others all came and went.. Now we have a choice, which is good because not everyone likes a Costa Coffee or whatever. The problem with the people above is all about advertising and marketing. The Old Coffee shop is geat, but it doesn't push itself forwards at passers by, as mentioned above Hackets is always busy, what do these people want, total monopoly, er.... sorry, nothanks. Historically Witney has always been small town minded, people, including the traders, need to wake to the fact that they have had it far too cushy for far too long. Some Witney people I met twenty odd years ago had never in their lives been out of the borough, and many never beyond Oxford, and believe it or not some of that culture still exists today, sad though it is. the wizard
  • Score: 1

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