Deal has won the Telegraph High Street of the Year Award. Well done Deal!
So what has contributed to this success? I believe that Deal succeeds because it is an honest and straightforward High Street with the right balance of independent and larger stores, satisfying all your daily needs. I know, it does mine: Even though I build small business websites for a living, I rarely shop online!
Deal’s High Street is not exclusive. It neither excludes nor is it restricted to any one sector. It serves customers of all colours and creeds across the whole of its 30,000 strong, broad demographic landscape. Weekender or resident, prince or pauper, there is something for everyone.
Contra to some perceptions about chains, my own belief and evidence is that Deal’s other traders are positively boosted by them. They don’t always sound the death knell. Ropers, the local bookseller, is still trading well alongside WH Smith – I bought a spotty dog there on Saturday for my granddaughter. The diverse mix of shops of the right size, type and location encourages people to stay in the town to shop and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. Our two main supermarkets fulfil some basic needs but are away from the main street and not so large as to decimate the local high street offerings. Rooks and the Meat in Place are both still trading strongly.
There is a lot of talk about councils providing free parking to give a boost to high street businesses. I saw an interesting piece by Jason Kitkat, the Brighton council leader, who is vehemently against free parking because it does not allow churn. This is my opinion too. In a smallish location, free parking means fewer customers. Add to that the attraction of a fabulous nearby beach and wonderful walks along the pier and promenade and the problem is compounded. Free buses would do far more. Some traders reported business being down on the recent ‘Small Business Saturday’ which would add some validity to the argument.
While coffee shops probably now outnumber pubs, thankfully Deal is not Totnes and has embraced its Costa Coffee. It serves the smokers and the families with their buggies. For those who prefer something more bohemian or bijou, then they are well served, too, with the Black Douglas, Miretti’s and the newly opened Isaura’s. And families with young children must surely love the little Wendy House in Love Drinks. And all hail Wetherspoons! Before it arrived last year there was only one venue approaching that sort of size: The Royal Hotel on the sea front; not quite as appealing to families and rather more expensive. It is unsurprising that several High Street businesses have stated that the past year has been extremely good. Wetherspoons attracts everyone from 0-90. Bums on seats demonstrate that people like it! It keeps people and families in the town with the High Street at the centre. In a recent Guardian article, high-end fashion shop Tamarisk reported that business had gone up dramatically in the past year. That isn’t a coincidence. Tweets from arts & crafts shop Dunlin & Diver in response to the article say the same. Joanne Harmer Gallery, the framer, currently has a notice in her window saying how great the past year has been. I spoke to the Wetherspoons manager just after it opened who stated that they had significantly exceeded their projections. They included an expected three month drop off but there was no sign this would happen and it didn’t. It simply is doing fantastic things for the town. Of course it will have had some impact on the local pubs but it is up to them to be creative in their offerings. Lack of competition makes businesses stagnate. My own limited investigations would seem to suggest that it has created spend rather than take it from elsewhere. Of course there will always be casualties and Deal is no stranger to long established shops closing (remember Laughtons, The Sound House and the Clock House?) but the past months have seen plenty of new businesses open too – Isaura’s, Love Drinks, Farsim Collection.
Times and habits change and Deal’s businesses must change with them. Greencades may soon be another casualty according to a recent sign outside the shop but arguably their cards and gifts business may now be less in tune with today’s shopper. The success of websites such as Pinterest with its abundance of craft and how-to tutorials has contributed to an astonishing increase in home made gifts and presents and a boom for stores such as Hobbycraft and our own Stitches and Swanstitch. The Telegraph photographer who came for pictures to accompany our winning piece made them her first port of call on finishing. The wool shop Stitches (there is a larger shop in Dover) has increased his stock of specialist wools and bin ends in response to requests from me and my fellow craft knitters and now has a young enthusiastic assistant who offers brilliant help and advice. Local shops can be responsive. And it literally pays off. On the very rare occasions I visit Westwood Cross, it’s generally to go to the Vue cinema but Deal will have its own cinema opening next year – can’t wait!
Now there’s a future article: The impact on Thanet’s out of town retail by award winning Deal High Street!!
© Pat Wilson