Stamford is bucking the trend and attracting plenty of newcomers to the town centre.
While many towns and cities are bracing themselves for further uncertain times – Lincolnshire’s best-loved stone town is proving to be a real tonic for shopaholics.
Refreshingly, amid a sea of news stories spelling fears of council cutbacks, threats of redundancies and the Government’s tightening of the pursestrings, Stamford has lots of positive things to shout about.
If you haven’t been to this popular tourist and shopping destination for some time, then be prepared to see a few new faces, because Stamford has been capturing the attention of national retailers and aspiring new entrepreneurs.
And this trend spells good news, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
Stamford Chamber of Trade vice president Andrew Leech, is a partner in Richardson surveyors, which handles both commercial and residential property, and in an ideal position to comment on the changes.
“This is a pleasant place to come shopping. It is an attractive destination, which offers people a good experience. Our newest retailers also stand to benefit from both local and passing trade.
“The High Street has seen the arrival of names such as Crew, Fat Face and Joules, among others and the latest news is that Rohan, another well-known national name has taken another unit in the High Street.
“New Look has moved into the former Woolworth’s store and carried out a wonderful refit, while Fat Face has gone into New Look’s former premises. Grasmere Butchers has moved into a shop opposite Tesco,” added Mr Leech.
One of Stamford’s newest arrivals is Marcia May, a shoe shop in St Mary’s Street.
The brainchild of Samantha Drewery from Roman Bank, it is based in the now revamped Aston and Gunn store. Mrs Drewery has named her business after her children, Marcia and Orla May.
Despite current economic uncertainty, Mrs Drewery said now seemed to be the ideal time for her to make her move.
Having worked for various shoe retailers over a period of twenty years, mainly in management, she no longer wanted to travel so much after having her second child, who is now three, and decided instead to become a business owner.
“I am passionate about good quality, well-fitting shoes and I saw an opportunity to open a shop selling quality, respected brands. I spent two years looking for the right premises. It is really difficult to get units in Stamford,” said Mrs Drewery.
“Having my own business gives me more flexibility although I still work long hours. Although I only opened in August, I have had some really positive comments from shoppers. I am planning to expand into also selling children’s shoes from next spring.”
Helen Fox is another woman entrepreneur who has snapped-up shop premises in the centre of Stamford.
She opened the doors of Mummy and Me, which is based in Wellington Lane, off the High Street, in August, and is attracting new and longer-standing customers.
“I had been selling nearly new toys and clothing from All Saints and St John’s Church Hall, but I decided I wanted a permanent base,” said Mrs Fox.
“I noted that there was nothing like this in Stamford, particularly with Woolworth’s and Adams having gone. That had left a gap. I was lucky to find this shop, which is in a great location, and from where I can sell anything from prams to toys and clothing for babies and youngsters up to the age of ten.”
When Lincolnshire Life dropped by, Mrs Fox – whose shop is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays – was so busy, we had to snatch a quick conversation in between her serving a queue of customers, who were delighted to find the fledgling store.
Other interesting businesses which have popped up around the town include LabelLoop in Broad Street, which is selling nearly new and secondhand clothing and soft furnishings.
But Stamford also has its longer-established names, including Nelson’s the Butchers, high-class Dawson of Stamford, which specialises in jewellery, antique furniture and decorative items, and watch and clock specialist Robert Loomes, which is based in St Mary’s Hill, and who is helping to spread word of the town’s expertise further afield.
After launching a hand-painted clock face, depicting scenes of Stamford, which has been proving popular for retirement and wedding gifts, the business is flying the flag for British skills.
Last year, Robert Loomes enjoyed success with its own, limited edition handmade stainless steel watch, now the Loomes’ team has perfected another, which looks like being another winning move.
“Our latest version is our copper-bottomed wristwatch. Again, we are creating a limited edition of 100 pieces and they are priced at £670 each,” said Mr Loomes.
“We are fairly confident that we are the only firm in the UK, offering this type of watch, which is handmade from scratch, and it is already proving popular,” he claimed.
Stamford Chamber president Tim Lee said the town continues to prove a magnet for all sorts of retailers and businesses, and when business premises come onto the market, they generally don’t stay empty for long.
“The Chamber continues to lobby Lincolnshire County Council for a relief road for the town, because of its traffic problems and bottlenecks at peak times. We don’t want to have to put up with traffic running up our narrow, twisty streets, when vehicles don’t need to be there,” said Mr Lee.
The Chamber and Stamford Town Partnership are also eager to see improvements made at the eastern end of the High Street.
Stamford Town Partnership urban group spokesman Don Lambert said: “We are working with the Town Council and we would like to freshen up this area by adding news seats, lighting and trees.”
There always seems to be something happening in this Georgian town, whose rich past continues to attract the attention of television producers and film-makers, along with lovers of fine architecture and the stately homes on its doorstep, such as Burghley House and Grimsthorpe Castle.
From 1st October to 3rd October, the town will be hosting a Festival of History, based on and around The Meadows and Bath Road. It is being organised by Stamford Chamber and Stamford Town Partnership.
Local schoolchildren will be making the most of this event on 1st October and, on the following two days, local families and hundreds of visitors are expected to turn out to enjoy mock battles staged by Civil War re-enactment groups.
Finally, the town Partnership is also preparing for the Stamford Christmas Festival, which takes place on 12th December, between 10am and 4pm.
All sorts of attractions are planned, including arts and crafts markets, festive food and drink, an ice rink, fairground rides and entertainment. The action will be centred around Broad Street, Ironmonger Street, High Street and Red Lion Square.
Stamford has been famous for many different reasons over the centuries and there are scores of impressive buildings that give more than a hint of its wealth in times gone by.
For a start, the town is claimed to be one of the first to produce wheel-thrown, glazed pottery.
In the Middle Ages, Stamford attracted attention for its wool and cloth and, specifically, a woven material called Haberget.
Little wonder that it ended up boasting a castle, fourteen churches, two monastic institutions and four friaries!
But things never stand still. The wool trade shifted to East Anglia and the town felt the pinch. However, there were a few well-heeled figures who helped to turn around its fortunes.
William Browne, is a name that will forever be linked with Stamford for founding an almshouse.
In the sixteenth Century, William Cecil – who became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth 1 - left his own memorial, Burghley House, which was built between 1565 and 1587.
The Great North Railway was introduced in the nineteenth century, but sadly it bypassed Stamford. The bad news was that it stifled opportunites for economic growth – however, parts of that legacy is today’s unspoilt town.
In the 1960s, its exceptional character was recognised by the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments and in 1967, Stamford became the first Conservation area in England.
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