Home Page Whatever next on the Haverhill retail merry-go-round? 25/07/11

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Hart of the Matter

The Haverhill retail merry-go-round is certainly spinning at the moment, if everything one hears is to be believed.


It is some weeks since the dramatic and disconcerting news became clear that Bon Marche and New Look in the high street were closing down. Rumours of their potential relocation followed, which have not yet taken on any substance, and the suggestion that Holland and Barrett might be joining the exodus was staunchly denied.


The motivator for the move was, apparently, an increase in the rents in that part of the high street, so it became a subject of speculation what might replace the clothing stores. It would clearly need to be someone able to afford the new rent, which would point towards a powerful national chain confident of doing well here.


Then came the next rumour – that the Co-op was closing down. This has been a familiar tale on and off ever since Tesco received planning permission, but this time there seems to be a kernel of truth inside the Chinese whispers, in that there may be plans for the Co-op to relocate.


Superb, we thought, they will slot into the vacant High Street premises. This appears not to be the case, as we now gather the Co-op has been looking at the old Mount Pleasant service station site along Withersfield Road.


That would be a great improvement on the overgrown fenced off piece of derelict ground which currently undermines the Cambridge approach to the town. The Co-op is not alone in looking for sites in the ‘community’, harking back to the corner shops which older people remember so fondly from their childhood, so the idea does not seem so outrageous. We shall see.


But if it is true, the Jubilee Walk store site will need to be filled quickly by an attractive player to keep the town centre vibrant. The name of Wilkinsons has been bandied about Haverhill in general a lot lately, but that means very little, as such inventive rumours abound all the time, and have done since before Tesco were supposed to be locating at the top of Wratting Hill and at Rowley Hill roundabout at the same time.


Meanwhile Tesco’s search for a site for their fuel station goes on. At one stage, they were believed to be trying to talk Aldi into relocating and giving up that site, and even talking to other contiguous landowners.


That was a bit of a longshot because Aldi seem to be quite secure and expanding. The latest rumour has concerned part of the Chalkstone Middle School site. The middle schools have now closed for the last time, and it is only to be expected there will be plenty of speculation about their future uses.


With B&Q having taken over Focus, and Wickes due to arrive down at Hamlet Green within the next 12 months, we probably won’t be looking for another DIY store. So what would we like to see? What does the town need?

If any of Haverhill’s multitudinous surveys was to ask me that question, I would have to decline to answer on the grounds that I am not qualified.


I don’t like shopping very much at all, to be honest. Apart from farm shops and good food and grocery stores generally, there are few retailers who could attract me in.


My favourite shops to browse around have always been those selling books, or classical recordings, and both are now almost defunct. Apart from university cities like Cambridge, one is unlikely to find more than one decent bookshop in any large town, and none at all in smaller ones.


As for classical – or for that matter any other sort of music recordings – downloading and mp3s seems to be the delivery stream of choice nowadays. It spoils all the fun. I hate browsing on the Internet. It was bad enough when all those beautiful big record covers were reduced down to CD cases, but little tiny icons on Amazon just have no appeal for me at all.


So I am struggling to suggest anything Haverhill might be likely to gain which will benefit me personally. A cookshop would be nice – I quite like new gadgets for the kitchen. Maybe an exotic food shop. Perhaps an off licence which is not totally obsessed with Polish beer or vodka. But the supermarkets have driven these little businesses out.


However, others more in tune with the retail world have suggested major gaps in the Haverhill offer which could usefully be plugged – computer games, for instance. In the end, the comparison shopping route is probably best, in other words more shops selling the same things as we have here already, so people have more choice.


I can’t tell one clothes shop from another, so have no idea which particular niche each is aiming for, but I am told there is plenty of room for addition in these areas.


I guess the answer is ‘watch this space’.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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