Getting down to business
Independent shopkeepers are determined to keep the flag flying for a county market town, despite tough economic times and the upheaval caused by major roadworks.
Grantham shopkeepers are fighting back despite a massive revamp of the Market Place which is costing £1.6 million and taking sixteen weeks to complete.
And they are depending on quality service, customer loyalty and the fact that they try to offer something different, to keep the shoppers coming back.
Former Grantham Business Club chairman Alastair Hawken, owner of Panini in Westgate, said the upgrade is a positive thing for the future success of the town.
“A town centre is a business and we have to look after it. Sixteen weeks of disruption is unsettling, but it has to take place. The £1.6m being invested in the structure upgrade is a good thing for the town.
“When the work is done it will pay dividends. Our town centre needs to be attractive. We are competing against other towns which do look attractive. Investing money to improve the look of the area is going to pay off. If we don’t do anything it will continue to decline,” said Alastair.
“By looking attractive, it will attract bigger businesses into the area and it will bring shoppers back. People don’t want to shop in an area that is run down.”
He said these are difficult times for traders but the structure is a positive thing.
“Town centres are evolving and traders have to evolve with them. Town centres have to modernise and traders have to modernise too, to reflect changes in the outside world.
“We have to provide a product which is attractive otherwise we won’t survive. We have to be constantly changing to keep up with the times.
“Businesses have to evolve or they will die away. I am a trader on the street. I don’t want the disruption, the town doesn’t want it because it can be detrimental to business, but we have to endure it to be able to enjoy sixty years more success.”
Sue Tyler of Design Works in London Road said major roadworks always caused problems for town centre businesses, but it is important that the people of Grantham continue to support them.
“A backlog of traffic always affects businesses in Grantham. The danger is that people will start going elsewhere because they don’t want to be stuck in a backlog of traffic.
“But when it is finished I think it will be a positive thing for the town. I hope that it will be a positive progression for the businesses in Westgate. Some of the businesses there are our customers.”
She said customer loyalty plays a big part in the survival of businesses.
“There are a lot of positive things happening despite the roadworks. It’s quite a niche market here and our customers get a personal service, so we have a lot of customer loyalty. That is one of the reasons why we have survived as a business, because of the loyalty of customers coming back year after year. That makes a difference.
“But it’s a knock-on effect. It’s really important to support our local businesses. It’s even more important because of the roadworks.”
Established in 2006, Design Works stocks a wide range of classic and contemporary furniture, designer fabrics, wallpaper, quality paints and home and garden accessories. It also offers an interior design service.
“More and more people are finding us on the internet and we have gone more into the interior design side,” said Sue.
“We also offer one-off, bespoke pieces of classic furniture and are suppliers of Annie Sloan, whose paints are doing fantastically well.”
The Market Place upgrade aims to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment by removing car parking spaces, widening footpaths and also the installation of new street furniture.
But not all traders are happy with the plan.
Hans Calvert, of contemporary interiors and original art shop Union in Union Street, Grantham, thinks people are looking at the scheme through rose-tinted glasses.
He thinks an infrastructure upgrade is not enough on its own and that easier traffic access into Grantham and cheaper parking are also needed.
“Tinkering with aesthetics does not address the fundamental issues. It needs to be done but the look of the town is not the real issue here. We need better traffic flow and cheaper parking to attract visitors from outside the town,” said Hans.
“It is vitally important that the powers that be – whether they be town planners, developers, landlords or business groups – recognise that unless their strategies are based on the need to attract people into towns like Grantham from a much wider area, with the provision of adequate cheap parking and intelligent traffic flow arrangements, then the retailing aspect of the town’s wellbeing will continue to decline in favour of internet shopping.
“Similarly landlords need to be realistic about rent levels generally, but particularly in a period of serious recession and reduced turnovers. Their interests will not be served in the long term if the rental infrastructure is weakened beyond a point of recovery,” added Hans.
Fiona Hopper owns two jewellery shops in Grantham’s High Street and Watergate.
The Watergate branch is managed by Russell Orrey – who has been with the fourth generation jewellery business for thirty years. Staff are knowledgeable about gems and able to carry out valuations. The shop also specialises in secondhand jewellery and is a gold-buying centre.
“Our High Street shop, opposite W H Smith, is a traditional jewellery outlet but we also sell trendy items, such as the Pandora and Spinning ranges of jewellery, and watches – including Guess, DKNY and Citizen – as well as christening and other gifts, china and glassware,” said Fiona.
“We think people like to go to a jeweller they can trust and we have some very loyal customers. I feel that the changes being made to the Market Place might actually make the town more attractive and help to bring more shoppers in,” she added.
While Grantham Market Place may be undergoing its own upheaval, artist Christine Burnett and her husband John have also been hard at work, giving their Westgate Gallery a bit of a revamp – that’s taken rather less time to complete!
The business, which has been going for 11 years, is made up of three rooms crammed with top branded art materials, great gifts and fabulous wooden toys, which appeal to ‘children’ of all ages!
“For us it is all about offering quality products at the right price. We also have to get our Christmas goods in early or else shoppers will go looking elsewhere, and we have been re-arranging our stock to better advantage,” said John.
An Indian restaurant is spicing up its fund-raising to bring international acclaim to Grantham. Bindi, in London Road, is to produce the world’s most expensive chutney to raise money for the Help for Heroes charity and mark its fourth anniversary in September.
Called Chutney for Heroes (C4H), it will contain twenty-three carat gold edible flakes, the best mango in the world, white truffles and saffron. It will set chutney fans back £300 for a 190ml jar, but £250 of that will be going to the charity.
Bindi managing director Muhammed Karim said the restaurant only started producing its own chutney about three months ago, but the move had snowballed.
“We wanted to do something a bit different. We have lots of friends and family in the forces so we just wanted to honour them. They come back from different conflicts with different problems and it gets to you,” he said.
“The ingredients in there are very opulent, so we are saying to these guys you are worth it.”
The restaurant was ranked in the top 100 Indian restaurants in the UK last year and won the Grantham Business Excellence award this year. It has also been named in the Indian good food guide as selling the world’s second most expensive Indian product.
The chutney will go on sale in September. There will be five jars available initially, with fifty later on.
“The chutney is very exotic. It has Alfonso mango from India, which is the world’s most expensive and best mango. The saffron comes from Spain, the white truffles from Knightsbridge and the gold flakes from Liverpool. It all helps Grantham. It gets its name known which helps and benefits all the businesses in the town,” added Mr Karim.
Preparations are well underway for the opening of Grantham’s first indoor market and craft fair. A husband-and-wife team, Zena and Gerry Rudkin, are hosting the event in the Old School House on the Old School Retail Park in Station Road East, on September 3.
The couple thought of the idea a few years ago, but feel that the time is now right to set it up; property leaseholder, Phil Dyer, is also behind the plan.
“Grantham needs something cheerful going on, something that people can be a part of. Since Marks & Spencer closed, it’s been difficult for businesses and they are still finding it difficult,” said Zena.
“We need to bring some life back into Grantham, we need something cheerful in the town. This is something people can look forward to. It’s something new to bring the community back together.”
Initially the couple are planning a weekly event, but hope it will eventually become a daily market.
“It is going to be a weekly market. But we want to follow it on so that we have people here all the time and eventually we want to spread it right through the school house.”
There will be twenty-two booths inside and two gazebos outside, housing stalls selling a range of products.
“There is a totally mixed bag of stalls. There will be everything from home-made preserves and flowers to baby clothes and greeting cards. There will also be a local artist and a nails expert and a number of craft stalls,” said Zena.
Special opening day events include a demonstration and seminar on fashionable Annie Sloan designer paints, courtesy of Design Works of Grantham, and a collection of genuine vintage 1920s and 1930s fashions on display.
The event runs from 10am to 4pm and there is free parking in the old playground, subject to availability.
The building was the old St John’s School until 1975; then the school catchment areas were changed and it was closed down. It remained empty until 1981, when the Rudkins bought it and used it to store their renowned Rudkin pine furniture, until they retired ten years ago.
Now it is home to a number of small businesses including Grantham Affordable Furniture, Grantham Kitchen Centre and Lovely ‘n’ Curvy, ladies clothing and fashion accessories.
A Town centre trader is hoping to put Grantham on the culinary heritage map by bringing back the famous Grantham gingerbread biscuit.
Alastair Hawken, owner of Panini in Westgate, is producing the famous biscuit in the town for the first time in more than three decades. He is hoping it will help bring tourists back to the area and encourage shoppers to continue to support businesses in the town during the upheaval caused by the major roadworks in the Market Place.
Alastair said: “It was the first ever sweet biscuit in the country and it is part of Grantham’s culinary heritage. Other places mark their culinary heritage, you’ve got the Yorkshire Pudding and the Cornish pasty, but Grantham hasn’t done that. They don’t celebrate it. But there is a lot of heritage in our town and we should be proud of it.”
The Grantham Gingerbread biscuit is said to have been invented by accident in the 1740s by local tradesman William Egglestone. He used to produce a flat, hard biscuit called the Grantham Whetstone which proved popular with travellers on their journey down the A1.
“Traffic on the A1 used to come through the centre of Grantham then and when the riders were changing their horses, they would stop off for some tucker for their journey south,” explained Alastair.
“They used to pick up the Grantham Whetstone biscuit to take with them. But one morning, in the dim light of his kitchen, William Egglestone got the ingredients mixed up and the biscuit came out with a gingery taste. It was a sweet biscuit and it was white. There had never been sweet ones before.”
The Grantham gingerbread biscuit is a small round biscuit with macaroon texture and honeycomb centre.
“It’s a white version of the traditional gingerbread and it was produced in Grantham for 200 years or more. But no one has produced it at all in Grantham for thirty years. It is still produced in neighbouring counties, it’s still called by the same name but the texture is wrong and it isn’t made to the traditional recipe,” said Alastair.
“We have seized the opportunity to bring the biscuit back. It’s taken a long time to get back to the authentic recipe and it’s been six months in the planning. But it is available now and we will be selling it in many outlets.”
Alastair is confident the biscuit will help re-establish Grantham as a tourist spot in the years to come.
“There is a lot of heritage in our town and it is perhaps one of the quaintest aspects of our past. We have to acknowledge our weak points and spread the word about our strong points.
“We are hoping it will be a nice taster to encourage people to come to Grantham. People can buy it as souvenirs or gifts to take home or just enjoy it with their coffee. We are hoping that Grantham gingerbread will put the town back on the tourist map.”