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Uncertain Future to business owners

As we enter 2023, business owners in high streets up and

down the country face an uncertain future and those in Heswall

are certainly no exception…

It is estimated that 15,000 high street stores are expected to close in 2023. It’s been almost three years since outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic when the retail trade was upended. Add to that the current rise in utility bills and the cost of living crisis, and it’s very hard not to feel gloomy about the situation.

Locally in recent weeks we have seen the closure of Mexican bar/restaurant Tahona and three estate agents and there is much uncertainty over chain store M&Co after the company entered administration. The last couple of years have seen a number of banks and businesses close and there is no doubt that the empty units have a detrimental effect on the appearance of Heswall. Of course, the situation is not unique to Heswall – businesses all over the country are facing worrying times. There’s just not the same footfall there used to be and people don’t rely so much on ‘local’ shops, which is a great shame.

In Heswall there has been a long-term demand for free parking, which would undoubtedly encourage visitors. Some of the rents on Telegraph Road are mind-blowing so it’s very difficult for a business to survive, let alone thrive. Business rates in Heswall are another big factor and a deterrent for opening up here rather than other towns.

Local estate agent Liam Gretton has toyed with the idea of premises in Heswall. He said: “Over the years it has become normal to associate estate agents with the high street, and naturally people exploring a move will seek agents who are located locally.

“Our agency has been operating on the Wirral for several years and from day one of opening, it was always about delivering something really special which no other agent was doing at the time. Most of the time we worked from home or a serviced office. Yes, that means we miss ‘footfall’ so we embrace the digital world to increase our levels of marketing instead. However, at times we feel obliged to set up on the high street.

“Recently we explored a number of units in Heswall – some felt great, others not so much – however, with the huge increase of costs across the board it simply didn’t make sense on our feasibility study.”

What is certain is that empty units are no good to anyone. One solution which has been mooted nationally is turnover-based rents for landlord and retailers. If a retailer hits a bad patch, both they and the landlord are incentivised to see improvements through additional marketing and guidance. This means the landlord and tenant share the risk, but both benefit from the subsequent success and growth. While this would undoubtedly require detailed legalities, it is certainly food for thought.

We asked people on social media for their thoughts on any initiatives and shops they would like to see in Heswall and it certainly opened some debate! Popular ideas included a diverse food hall (similar to a permanent Heswall Farmers’ Market), a greengrocers, Home Bargains and the return of Iceland. Here is a selection of responses:

Fresh fruit and vegetables. Church Farm used to have some fantastic local stuff and stuff sourced direct from the farmers in other localities. As always parking fees are an obvious discouragement. Keeping the local economy healthy is good for everyone!

Slow the traffic and reduce the volume of cars. They ruin a place. Widen the pavements. More outdoor seating and places to stop and sit. We know what healthy, vibrant places look and feel like – recreate that on Telegraph Road.

Heswall’s age profile indicates that up to 2035 there will be an enormous increase in the number of elderly people (way over national average). Statistically younger families spend more money than older people so we need to find a way to attract them to the area. Dare I say new housing would help…

Always thought a food hall might do well, with a bakery, fruit and vegetables and a fishmonger, etc.

Think there should be some sort of rent subsidy for ‘essential‘ or food shops, which don’t sell high-value items. I’m actually thinking of Hoylake, where Hoylake Pantry zero waste shop had to close because they couldn’t afford the rent. They were attempting to reduce single-use plastic so patrons took own containers (or paper bags were supplied) and decanted what you needed; but rice/pasta/dried goods are not high-value items. You have to sell a lot to make your rent!

We have to give people a need to come to Heswall; we have very limited short-term and free parking – the council target motorists by increasing parking fees so driving the shoppers away. This also drives retailers away from investing as [there are] no customers. Look at the success of out of town retail developments. Remove parking fees for a period and offer business rate incentives. West Kirby has done well and has a destination feel with the trains etc, Heswall is a little lost at present and needs to re-establish an identity as it’s too easy to drive through Heswall – what will make you stop?

Replicating something like Cub & Calf, a mini soft play cafe, upmarket not like the big ones you see. It is always so busy and would bring other families to the area and encourage other shopping.

Unfortunately no single answer is going to solve this problem. Local towns and villages are in decline throughout the country. This is mainly down to a lack of joined-up initiatives, including the exclusion of many landlords who own property in the area. It’s not a question of what shops or facilities should come to Heswall, it’s where does Heswall want to be in 10 years’ time? Change will no doubt take time and the high street will undergo a number of transformations. A good mix of business, shopping and recreation usually benefits areas and helps transform them.

The old banks need converting into something. They have silly high rents because they are counted as secure buildings. Fishmonger and fresh fruit and veg would be good. Nando’s would be a hit I’m sure.

Turn the bowling green outside Heswall Hall into a continental style square with a water fountain, two markets a week (one for local produce and one second-hand/vintage/antiques) with tables and chairs and a small stage for local acoustic music and performances. It would be lovely!

Who are the property owners? I may be naïve, but if you ask for £1,000,000 a year, your property will remain unoccupied forever (like the old NatWest bank!). If you ask for £1 a year, you’ll have it occupied in no time. Realistically, somewhere between will tempt businesses in. While a property remains unoccupied it must be losing a fortune for the owners.

A really good fruit and veg shop like Fine Fruits in Pensby. I also think something like Wok & Go, a trendy noodle bar that you can eat in or take away little noodle pots would do very well. Home Bargains would do great business too.

I could write a book on this subject, through experience. OK I live in Germany but am from Heswall. The same thing is happening here with larger chains actually closing down. The general running costs override actually being able to run a profitable business (that’s unless you actually own the building) so that makes it impossible for some enterprising (local) individual to expand. Heswall needs a central point like a shopping centre which would be the hub, a regular market for local produce, etc, affordable premises to suit needs of various businesses. A multi-story car park (with a 2-hour free parking) wouldn’t go a miss either. The word is ‘affordable’.

A food and drinks market similar to Duke Street Market or the new Chester Food Market with lots of different cuisines and plenty of seating options. A high street soft play/cafe similar to Bertie and Boos in London would be great for Heswall too. With quality food, drinks and even the option for the mums and dads to have a glass of wine while the kids play. What would help the high street more than anything is if the rent on buildings wasn’t so extortionate and also if Heswall had free parking like Neston does!

How about utilising empty shops as pop-ups for local arts and crafts. I’m sure that there is a lot of local talent that would enhance Heswall?

I think an artisan market would be great with pop-up cafes mingled in – have a look at Shrewsbury Market – it was run down and much like Birkenhead Market is now, then it was turned around and now one of the best in the country and has won awards – they have artists, antique shops, record shops, butchers, fishmongers and quirky artisan cafes – they have late-night shopping when the cafes are open – it is thriving and a ‘go to’ place.

As Heswall residents it’s vital we support the business that are still open and no doubt needing support. If you like somewhere, tell your friends from outside of Heswall. Get them to come here – I know parking is a nightmare, but it’s £1 an hour which is much cheaper than the likes of Liverpool, etc. Grow the businesses that are still here and maybe more will have cause to come. Whether it’s your favourite bar, hairdresser, charity shop, coffee shop, gift shop – or even live music venue and community hall – Heswall still has a lot going for it that could help grow the town if supported.

Thankfully however, not all is doom and gloom. Delmar World has reopened on Milner Road, having initially opened just before Covid struck. Managing Director Ann Anglesea said: “Now the travel industry has recovered, clients are keen to get travelling again without restrictions. It was so exciting for us to re-open our branch in Heswall last week. The welcome we have had from our clients and local businesses has made us feel that we are back home again! What’s more, we are busy with walk-ins and telephone enquiries, which goes to show that Heswall is getting its mojo back again!”

Recent additions include Cake Avenue and Touch of Bliss and Cain of Heswall recently took over the old Maxwell Hodge building on Telegraph Road and will be opening a shoe shop later this month. There are also plans to turn the old Police Station into a bar/restaurant, Wirral Life plan to open a ‘Member’s Bar’ later this year, The Bow-Legged Beagle have applied for a licence in the old Staggered shop and Churchview Veterinary Centre on Pensby Road has expanded into the empty unit next door.

Steve Atherton, Chairman of Heswall & District Business Association (HDBA), told Heswall Magazine: “Every high street in the country, no matter how big or small, will be suffering and Heswall is no exception. There were over 300 businesses in Heswall before the pandemic and sadly that number has now declined. At the beginning of 2022 we had a shocking 10% of empty units with what looked like nobody taking them over. Fast forward to January 2023 and I am pleased to welcome several new businesses to the area. High streets will continue to have a purpose; however, they are inevitably going to become smaller as time goes on. These businesses may not be the cheapest you can find, but without your support of shopping local, high streets will diminish further until they are gone for good. I personally look forward to meeting all of our new Heswall businesses and working with them moving forward.”

A thriving high street is key to boosting the potential of a village or town where people can socialise as well as shop. Shopping locally pumps money into the local economy, and by spending money in your local shop, restaurant, café or pub, you can do your bit to keep Heswall vibrant.

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