As a shop owner on the High Street, the future of the town centre concerns me.
I’ve been visited by political party representatives and Hawick action groups, asking about the High Street and what should be done to fix it. I keep hearing the same old things over and over again, such as change the flow of the traffic (again), bring in big retailers and try and attract investment into the town. These all sound like great ideas until you ask yourself how they will be achieved, and then everythng falls flat on its face.
Although there are many changes needed, I can clearly see a few simple ones that may make a difference.
Looking at the High Street, it is clear to me that the shops that are thriving and surviving are not national chains but small local-run businesses. People who have invested in themselves and worked hard to build a small business from scratch. So why don’t more people start up a new business? I believe the answer to this is fear.
If you read the news and listen to the media all that we hear is “Rates, rates, rates”, and this is a scary prospect. What we don’t hear, though, is that Scotland has one of the best small business rates anywhere. Prospective entrepreneurs can apply to Scottish Borders Council so that they don’t have to pay rates (depending on the rateable value of your shop).
We also have Business Gateway which has an amazing team that can help with funding (grants) and advice, as well as workshops that explain in a simple format how things work. And best of all is that it’s all free.
We live in an amazing, friendly community, and this means that when you build a relationship with the customers they will remain loyal to you and enjoy visiting your shop because it has a local feel and quality about it with good service and a friendly smile, something not always achieved by staff working for the money-driven national chains.
We have a High Street that would be amazing as the site for a well-run Edinburgh-style market once a month. Shopkeepers could have their own stalls, and we could also have a “pitch for a pitch” system, whereby stall owners must run their products by a panel so that we don’t end up with a flea-type market. The whole of the Borders would get to hear about it through the media and every business in town would benefit from the extra footfall.
When I recently suggested this idea to a local action group, their short uninspiring answer was that “it would cost too much money”.
Why not run an article in the paper asking people what they want to see in the town?
These are just a few simple points that I honestly believe would make a big difference to the town and people’s way of thinking about investing in themselves.
Hawick is no longer a thriving mill town and it needs to find a new identity. I also strongly believe that with a mix of our history, Wilton Lodge Park, music scene and quaint locally-run shops and market, Hawick can become a tourist hot spot.
Dream your life, live your dream. Open your own business.