Retail solutions

PUBLISHED: 10:28 15 January 2009 | UPDATED: 13:51 06 May 2010

SIR — I should like to expand on my letter headlined Halt the decline (Herts Advertiser, January 1) having read the subsequent letters on shopping in St Albans. I have also looked at the web-site Shop St Albans prepared by the Chamber of Commerce and

SIR - I should like to expand on my letter headlined "Halt the decline" (Herts Advertiser, January 1) having read the subsequent letters on shopping in St Albans. I have also looked at the web-site "Shop St Albans" prepared by the Chamber of Commerce and the district council and wish shopping in St Albans was as attractive and appealing as that document suggests.

Mr Michael Weaver (letters, January 8) says that a vision for St Albans is being worked on - but by whom, and when and where will it be published?

I and Mr Weaver agree on several things, in particular pedestrian-friendly areas - St Peter's Street is bleak when there is no market - a retail strategy, and a place where people enjoy going to shop and meet. Many groups will need to contribute to achieve this and with a positive attitude it could be achieved.

Of course people need to be persuaded to shop in the city in order to help and retain retailers but statements like that alone, while laudable, will not achieve the best results because that will only happen once other things change. I am now retired but I have been in property all my working life, including experience of retail use and investment, and I have been a shop customer for over 60 years. This does influence my views but I am sure many other people would welcome an opportunity to express their own opinions.

The architectural styles in St Peter's Street are mixed, some distinctly unattractive by the best standards. In the short to medium term we have to accept that, but the street scene could be made more attractive if it were better maintained. Many of the buildings above ground level are in poor repair and landlords, tenants and investors need to fulfil their obligations to carry out essential repairs and painting and tidy up the buildings generally.

It is not possible to know which shops are in financial difficulty but landlords could help out their tenants with reduced rents for various periods if that helps to keep the shop occupied and trading. While the centre needs branches of the multiples, it also needs more good-quality specialist shops, one-off uses, but while the planning authority only has limited control over use, it could encourage desirable trends through a strategy agreed and understood by all groups with a common aim.

Something needs to be done to soften the large bleak space along the west side of St Peter's Street so that there is a welcoming feeling for pedestrians.

Retailers themselves could think whether making changes would be beneficial to their businesses. I believe they should move away from covering their windows and hiding their goods by large posters and try instead to encourage customers with attractive unobstructed window displays and inviting entrances, so that the customers stop and look and then want to go in.

I do not think the advertising sandwich boards outside shops achieve anything and they cause obstruction to pedestrians and are untidy. The benefits of a high standard of personal service also need to be relearned in some cases including, as an example, having change counted out into the customer's hand rather than having it thrust into one's hand in a heap. Of course, customers also should be courteous.

If these and other improvements were seen to have been taking place over recent years it might be easier to let shops as they become vacant, even in these more difficult times.

Traffic and parking are difficult problems and while they are relevant to a discussion on the well-being of shopping, I intentionally make no comment here about them, partly because I do not know what the solution is.


Battlefield Road, St Albans.

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