The way it was
WIF has just read a comment on the Journal website by Paul Crab (Hi Paul if you are reading this).
“Perhaps we need to look at our High Street, and accept that we don’t need anyone else to sell baked beans, but what can we ‘niche market’? Years ago, South Molton became a regional ‘centre of excellence’ for antiques. Land locked Braunton is the surfwear capital of North Devon. Any ideas?”
We totally agree.
Many high streets are similar to Ilfracombe. Essentially they have a lot of empty shops, they probably look a bit shabby and unloved, lots of charity and pound shops, a few convenience stores and a sprinkle of clothes shops and a heavy dose of chicken/fast food outlets and dotted all over town will be a baffling amount of hairdressers and barbers.
These high streets support locals who don’t go to the out of town Tesco/Sainsbury’s/Asda/Morrisons or local market town (in this case Barnstaple).
As Ilfracombe swells in size during the summer months due to tourists, it seems a little daft that the high street doesn’t capitalize on this fact.
Ilfracombe has, potentially, one of the prettiest high streets anywhere. A majority of the shops have original shop fronts (which thank goodness have a conservation order now). It has so much potential. As I wrote in an earlier post “Ilfracombe was beautiful”.
It just needs a focus. As Paul rightly said, different areas have a focus and become a mecca for certain types of shopper. London is a case in point. For books you go to Charring cross road, for electrical items yo go to Tottenham Court Road, for furniture you go near Googe Street, for clothes you go to Oxford street, for cutting edge fashion you go to Neals yard, for trendy bars you go to Shoreditch, for Curry you go to Brick Lane.
These places become destinations for these types of businesses and they sustain loads of them, all competing for the same customer. As there are so many of then next to one another the draw in the shoppers that want what they sell. The number of similar businesses gives the consumer choice and consumers LOVE choice.
Don’t believe me? Go into a supermarket. Any fair size one will do. How many different versions of similar items can you buy? How many different types of Houmous can you choose from? Pizza? How many different brands are there of the same type of bacon? Margarine?
It would be a good idea to have survey this summer in the high street, down the front and other areas around Ilfracombe. Get people out with clipboards, engage the shop owners to take part and ask tourists what shops they like to look at, what shops can they remember from their travels, what was the most extravagant thing they bought on holiday (anywhere not just in the UK), on holiday do they buy antiques, souveneers, gifts? Do they like crafts, art and if so what type? Did they buy anything today from Ilfracombe? Keep the questions focused, try to get answers rather than just opinions (asking someones opinion often means they have to think of a response even if they don’t have an opinion on it. This can be misleading. I see it happen a lot in market research).
This survey could help shape the future of the types of businesses Ilfracombe needs to attract. Of course this doesn’t mean the end of ‘normal shops’ for the locals. Turtons Butchers is a great local asset as are many other essential local businesses.
A great example of where I can see Ilfracombe in the future is in Whitstable in Kent. It’s a seaside town, it has an oyster festival on it’s harbour which brings lots of visitors to give it focus (this is something Ilfracombe desperately needs, along with a great market….why they don’t do this in the old bus garage is beyond me) and it’s high street is beautiful, full of interesting, exciting shops.
This is a link to some of the makeover visuals we did on the high street.
What do you think?