Call to support Harpenden town’s traders

HARPENDEN businesses left reeling thanks to a double whammy of massive lease hikes on their premises and “confusing” local parking have issued a stark warning: the town is at risk of losing more independent stores.

Several businesspeople voiced concern to the Herts Advertiser about “greedy landlords” ramping up leases to about �20,000 per annum.

And they have urged residents to show their support by shopping locally.

One admitted that after conducting his business in the picturesque town for about two decades he was considering shifting to Hemel Hempstead.

But the business community does have people fighting its corner – nationally, in the form of television star and retail guru Mary Portas, who has been appointed by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to bring back the “bustle” to the UK’s high streets, and within Harpenden there is a push to encourage residents to spend their money in the town.

When the Herts Advertiser visited the town centre on Monday, people expressed sadness about the closure of Felicitations, which has sold cards and toys for about 15 years.

Inside the store, beyond the closing down signs, there was the disconcerting sight of cut-price sparkling tinsel, snow globes and other Christmas stock among the cards at the final sale.

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The owner of Felicitations, who did not want to be named, said: “The landlord wanted to put the rent up �20,000 more than it is now. It’s just not viable.”

She said the toy store on the upper floor of Felicitations was closed earlier this year. The woman added: “It was a struggle. The last thing we wanted to do was make the ladies [staff] redundant, specially in this climate. It’s a shame because we have been here 15 years. We are just a small, independent shop.”

She warned that if landlords continued, “asking for ridiculous rents, I don’t think there will be any small independent shops like ours in 10 years time.”

However, further along the High Street Glenn Moxley, who runs tobacconist, Thorns of Harpenden, with his father, Colin, said: “I’m very busy in here. I can’t complain. I specialise in what supermarkets don’t have. You have to.”

He has a novel way of getting around restrictive and confusing street parking. Some of his regular customers, wary of omnipresent traffic wardens and lack of parking spaces, toot their car horn outside the store. Glenn dashes out for their order, then his customer drives around the block, returning minutes later to pick up their purchase.

Glenn joked: “It’s like a drive-through service for regulars.” But he pointed out that the business depended on customers’ ability to park nearby.

The owner of ladies fashion retailer Woosters, Richard Andrews, said rent was more expensive at the south end of the High Street. He added: “We are moving from the expensive south end to the less expensive north end.”

Several independent retailers said it was difficult competing with national outlets on the High Street.

This observation was borne out when this paper was told of a local independent caf� selling takeaway cappuccinos at half price, for just �1. When a caf� employee was quizzed about the low price, she shrugged and explained: “it’s because of the competition.”

Harpenden town and St Albans district councils are both trying to address car parking woes.

Harpenden town clerk John Bagshaw said: “It’s not just an issue for the retailers. It’s an issue for residents and visitors to town. Harpenden is an established commuter town and we get a lot of people driving in to take the train, and they are parking in the streets because the railway car parks are full.”

He added: “There is a whole basketful of issues to be addressed, because some want long-term parking, others want short-term. There is no small, easy solution.”