Chiswick councillors set up task force to tackle independent shops crisis

By Bridget Osborne, photograph by Anna Kunst

Chiswick councillors set up task force to tackle independent shops crisis 27 July 2018

With about 20 empty shops in central Chiswick and more businesses set to close, Chiswick is at risk of becoming a clone town or a ghost town say councillors

Three Chiswick councillors, one from each ward incorporating Chiswick, have set up a task force to tackle the crisis facing independent shops. Councillors Joanna Biddolph (Turnham Green), Patrick Barr (Homefields) and Gabriella Giles (Riverside) are working together with Chiswick traders to support our existing local shops; help address the decline in the number of independent shops in Chiswick; and reduce the number of new shops that set up only to fail.

The campaign is about four things:

1. influencing policy makers, nationally and locally, to ensure that policies support, rather than hinder, our independent retailers
2. explaining to landlords and agents that huge leaps in rent drive out independents and are changing Chiswick’s shopping streets and character for ever
3. guiding businesses looking to set up shop in Chiswick on how to make a success of it
4. persuading residents and visitors to change their behaviour and put independent shopping on their shopping lists.

“It is clear that current rents, said to be the market value, are the market value for failure” said Cllr Joanna Biddolph. “We’ve seen new shops open then close a few months later, the shop owner having lost six figure sums on buying their lease; fitting out their shop; recruiting and training new staff; trying to build trade; and paying enormously high business rates for nothing in return. As for longstanding independent shops, some have closed recently, and others are under threat, unable to make a business case for the enormous hikes in rent their landlords demand,” she continued. “With chains moving in, and on roads that have traditionally been independent-led, Chiswick is at risk of becoming a clone town or a ghost town.

“Residents often don’t realise how tough it is to succeed here. One shop is being advertised at rent and rates that mean the retailer will have to make £3,000 a week just to open the door. That’s before buying stock, paying staff, turning on the lights, marketing to bring in customers, and trying to make a profit. If every resident were to make small but permanent changes to their shopping behaviour, buying from independents, it could ensure our independent businesses survive, she added.

“It’s so easy to dash to a supermarket to buy everything there without a thought,” said Patrick Barr. “Yet, nipping to an independent shop or stall brings other rewards – a chat with the owner, advice on what to choose, a more extensive range, surprisingly competitive prices – and it supports a business that brings character and difference to our lovely area. We have so much choice in Chiswick but many businesses are under threat because we just don’t use them often enough. The cliché “Use It or Lose It” could not be more apt,” he said, adding that he will be encouraging a shift in shopping habits.

“It’s surprising how many people in Chiswick don’t know about our independent shops,” Gabriella Giles explained. “If you live in Grove Park or Strand on the Green, for example, we use our local shops because they are nearby and pop up to the western end of the High Road for more extensive shopping because it is the easy option. We forget about Devonshire Road, Turnham Green Terrace, other roads off the High Road and shops elsewhere in Chiswick. The same is true wherever in Chiswick you live; the nearest shops tend to be where you go. Part of our campaign is to put all these roads and the fabulous shops on them on the map so more residents are persuaded to use them,” she said.

John Fitzgerald, who runs Snappy Snaps, told The Chiswick Calendar that in the 30 years he’s been the local franchisee of the national chain in Chiswick, he’s never seen it so bad with so many premises standing empty. The Chiswick Calendar has spoken to several long established and respected traders who are currently trying to sell their business in the centre of Chiswick and move elsewhere. Others who have already left, such as Sara Stationers which used to be on the High Rd expressed how angry, demoralised and sad they were about having to sell up after many years of had work to try and build a business, but they just felt that the odds were stacked against them. The Chiswick Calendar set up its Club Card scheme inviting local businesses to offer deals and discounts to local residents expressly to encourage people to shop locally in Chiswick and not go in to central London to do their shopping, in an attempt to support local businesses.

The task force team has already had preliminary discussions with several business owners, organisations that underpin independent businesses’ success, and individuals who have offered expertise and skill to support and promote Chiswick’s independent shops. It is drawing up an action plan, with local businesses. “The point is that this must be driven by our traders. A lot of advice and business support is geared to office-based businesses; it does not work for retailers. We want to use our positions of influence to change that and make a positive difference for Chiswick. It’s about getting it right for Chiswick’s wonderful local shops, cafés and restaurants – and encouraging local residents to support them,” Joanna concluded.