Monday, August 21, 2006

Taking the caffeine challenge

The "Anglin" Angle

There I was savouring the delights of South Shields' newest coffee house, thumbing through the Shields Gazette to find out what's been happening this weekend when I came across the full paged article about the retail mix in South Shields.

Perhaps "Mr. Town Centre", Cllr. John Anglin, has taken to reading this blog and taken note of some of the opinions expressed here.

I had decided to venture into Cafe Nero in King Street, which has only been open for around a week; easily located next to South Shields Metro Station it is ideally placed for the thirsty traveller. The decor is very much like a town centre smart wine bar, solid wooden tables and chairs, gigantic posters printed on canvass, huge photographs, glass, mirrors, and chrome, and a serving area that is almost identical to any bar. The big difference of course is that this establishment won't serve you a pint of bitter. Apart from a varied range of coffees there are cakes, biscuits, confectionery, sandwhiches, and ice creams too.

So why should we need another coffee house you might ask? Minchellas on Ocean Road is probably less than fifty yards away, the Coffee Caban in the Market place is less than two hundred yards away, you can get a cuppa in the Baker's Oven in King Street (just a few doors down the street). The answer is variety! Each of these establishments have their own character and decor, and a market of clientelle which may differ from shop to shop. They all offer coffees to different tastes and at prices to suit different pockets, some lack decor of any quality, some are sumptuous. Some are owned by national or regional chains, others are owned by local business people, or in the case of Cafe Nero are franchised by local people.

So, I sat there, sipping my Americano, (very hot, with a strong coffee liquor), pondering how long it will take before we once again see more and more "local" shops in our town centre. Like John Anglin, I agree that we need to have a strong mix of national chain stores and specialised local "niche" enterprises, however there are problems involved in attracting these local specialised retailers, revolving around property prices and rents, and in many cases this prohibits new independant retailers from using any available space in King Street. We need to make special provision as we plan for the future to ensure that space is available at reasonable cost to cater for this "niche" market. It is hoped that the multi-storey car park in Mile End Road will be demolished and replaced with an office development, and I hope that the concept of retailing on the ground floor will be protected within this development. It presents an ideal opportunity to create small retail outlets at low cost to cater for local specialists.

Remember, there are still certain types of shops that you will no longer find in our town centre, for instance we do not have a specialist toy shop since the demise of Clarke's in Ocean Road and Frederick Street, we don't have a specialist sports supplier since the closure of Ripon's in Charlotte Terrace. There are no longer any bespoke tailors in the town centre, the last I remember was Gatoff's in Fowler Street and Wood's the Tailor in Ocean Road. We have an ethnic clothes specialist further down Ocean Road, but I'm sure there is room for another in a town with a reasonable market for their goods. There are no tobacconists catering for the older pipe smokers anymore (but I guess that political correctness and a declining market might account for this.) We no longer have a specialist model shop after the one in the Market Place closed down, this is a real bind for the railway modeller. There are no local butchers or bakers in the town centre. You could argue that there is room for a small furniture retailer, or for someone specialising in giftware, china, and glass.

In short, variety is something that a town centre demands to remain lively, profitable, and usefull to the community it serves. South Tyneside Council seems to be working hard at bringing better and bigger retailers to the town, we now have four fine outlets at Waterloo Square and next year they will be joined by a much larger Asda, but they must remember that Britain has been described as "a nation of shopkeepers" and the news from the Corner Shop is that customers like small, customers like local, customers like something different.

So I appeal to "Mr. Town Centre" Anglin to reserve a special place in the town centre to promote the goods and services of local retailers, not just to retain the local character and value of the town, but also to prevent our town centre becoming "cloned" and looking like any other in the U.K. Take a trip to Hexham, Morpeth, or Durham's Prince Bishops Centre to see how they are managing.

Looking out from Cafe Nero - click thumbnail to enlarge

Thanks for the link, Curly. Btw, your new blog design looks the part.
Glad to have been of some assistance and thanks for your comment, people do say that it has a more "corporate" look and is easier to read and navigate - thanks!
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