Hertford retail – Part Two

Where in Hertford can you buy a pair of shoes, ladies underwear or a baby’s potty?

The answer is that you can’t; not if you like your foot to be measured, are a lady of a certain age or have searched all the obvious places like chemist shops. I found the latter item in Messages where you’d least expect to find a baby’s potty. There are no shoe shops left in town and unless you are a young lady with a svelte like figure places to find those essential pieces of clothing are far and few between.

I have just completed an up to date database of the town’s business premises. I last wrote a similar report in 2007 and the town centre profile has changed quite dramatically. There is now almost a total reliance on the service sector. People used to comment that all Hertford had to offer was estate agents, charity shops and hairdressers. In the past it was easy to refute these claims but now the facts are quite stark.

There are 269 retail outlets including Banks of which there are 8. Of those 159 retail premises offering services, 39 are in the health & beauty sector (hairdressers, nail bars, salons etc) and 65 are in the food and drink sector (Bars, coffee shops, takeaways etc). These two sectors alone account for 66% of all service sector businesses. In 2007 this was 55%.

Since I wrote the report the premises once occupied by Clintons Cards is now being rebuilt as a Turkish restaurant, Slades is a restaurant/cafe, East Herts Electrical is a Mens hairdressers, Artico is a smoothie bar and The Decorated Room is to be another smoothie bar (now an Italian restaurant).

There are long standing traders who are about to close. Colin Sykes will retire in May, Michaels Jewellery is to close at the end of February and I know of at least another two long standing traders who are on the point of closing or moving.

What will come in their place? Answers on a postcard.

The revised application by Van Hages for a food store presumed to be Waitrose is due to be considered by Planning Department shortly and we await with breath bated the application from Wrenbridge for the regeneration plans for Bircherley Green. As I have said before either Waitrose will leave for Ware or close its doors for good in 2016; and if Wrenbridge succeed there will be a big hole in Hertford for at least eighteen months – probably more.

In the meantime where is everybody going to go for essential everyday items? Not Hertford. Possibly Harlow, Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City. No one wants to shop out of town but given the lack of depth in Hertford’s shopping offer does anyone have a choice any more?

There is a need for a Local Plan but where is that going to come from? There is an election in May but I doubt if any of the local issues found in this blog will be addressed. At the heart of the matter everyone seems quite happy living here – and that is the real problem. Good schools, good transport links, low crime rates etc etc. At night there are plenty of bars and eateries to suit all tastes but no one is here during the day and no one seems bothered about how the town will look in another 8 years.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.