Dorchester hits back with New BusinessesFriday, September 18th, 2009
By Bill Hemmings
Taking a period of just over a year it is very sad to see the list of businesses that have gone from the high street in Dorchester possibly for ever. The list totalled twenty and included a number of well-known high street brands including Woolworths, Adams, Dorothy Perkins and Whittard’s. A number of these businesses have therefore gone from high streets across the whole of the UK, but something rather exciting has since happened in Dorchester.
With Wellworths leading the way in the media spotlight and who could have predicted the amazing amount of coverage that Claire and her team would get for Dorchester, it should not go un-noticed that we have had a large number of other new businesses opening in town over the same period. In fact, the excellent news is that with the opening of Poppy’s children’s clothes shop and Victoria’s Closet down Durngate street, we have hit the magic twenty new businesses. I know of at least two more opening or about to open so this means that against the national trend our county town is doing pretty well.
I am not by any means trying to suggest that the recession is over and it would be naive to think that there may not still be more casualties over the next few months, but this is a very encouraging achievement. Prime location retail units in the town centre are now starting to fill once again as the word is out that Dorchester means business and looks like good place to have a shop or open a new business.
Historically, the town has always been known for its eclectic range of specialist independent shops and refreshingly, a lot of these new businesses are bringing more variety and colour back to town. The new Brewery Square development is revitalising an area to the south of town which will no doubt bring many more new visitors to Dorchester and hopefully this too will have a positive effect for the whole of town.
I visited some of the new businesses to get their views on trading conditions and ask what sort of welcome they have received. In the interest of getting the bigger picture I also interviewed some businesses that have been here much longer!
I started my tour in the new curiosity shop and asked the owner, Martin who can barely contain his delight in having chosen Dorchester as the location to open his business, how were things going?
The New Curiosity Shop opened its doors for the first time in November 2008. We were the first retail outlet to open on the Brewery Square development and have since been joined by the likes of Simon’s Deli, Panini’s, the Health Centre and the Market Pharmacy. We look upon last year and this year as laying the foundations of our business. We are developing our successful product lines such as our stunning jewellery, wall art and contemporary articles for the home.
With our shop in Brewery Square we have our eyes firmly on the future. For the here and now, we are finding that as the year progresses, trade is increasing and we look forward to continued progress. We have some quite inspirational items coming along for our Autumn/Christmas ranges, I cant wait. The Dorchester Business Improvement District company (DBID) have played an important role in supporting a young business through difficult economic times, specifically part subsidising selected advertising. In particular, the DBID project Director, Phil Gordon, has been an excellent source for honest and sound advice and a facilitator for networking. The DBID has given The New Curiosity Shop value for money through its projects and that can only help towards the growth of our business.”
Across a couple of streets and heading for the town centre, the delightfully named ‘Knobs and knockers’ store greets me with a stunning rage of door furniture and other accessories that would grace houses spanning several centuries of period design. I have my eyes on the clear blue crystal door knobs.
The owner Conde tells me “I was looking for a good location in the Dorset area to set up my showroom and Dorchester seemed ideal, particularly as there are very few shops like mine anywhere near! I have found the local business community very helpful and supportive, but more importantly my customers have been equally as welcoming and pleased with the quality of my products.”
Nipping into White Stuff on South Street, I was keen to find out how one of the town’s newest multis was doing. I met their energetic and very positive manager Els, I asked her how things were going and are they pleased with their choice of coming to Dorchester?
“We’re extremely pleased with our choice of Dorchester as a location for White Stuff. We already had a solid presence in the South West, with successful shops in Taunton, Exeter and Salisbury so Dorchester was a natural choice and we opened our doors in March 2008. It’s a beautiful, picturesque town on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset steeped in history and Dorchester locals have really warmed to our shop, they love our quirky events and amusing window displays, as well as our lovely products!”
But what of Dorchester more established shops, how are they finding things at present?
Another fine example of quality, choice and individuality is Mirari down Antelope walk. Owner Shirley, who has been in business in town for many years reflected “Dorchester is a truly individual town with many small and diverse businesses to attract shoppers both local and visitors to the area. Many of our customers travel long distances to visit us because of the special fitting service and the quality of the lingerie we offer.
Christmas last year did see somewhat lower sales than the year before – as much I suspect due to some of the media as to the recession. Many of us were worried about over spending. Since Christmas however the mood has definitely lightened and here at Mirari we continue to get new customers through referrals and through the advertising which was aided by the DBID scheme. Most heartening is the loyalty of our previous customers.
I do believe that the future of retail is not only in the good service that we offer but also the quality of the goods on sale. Our ‘Made in England ‘ nightwear is a really good selling point, people do care far more today about the origin of their purchases. We are looking forward to August as we are being re-decorated and having a mini refit to keep the shop looking good too.”
Tracy, who owns and runs Wedding time in High East street has seen both bad and good times before as she has been in town since 1983. “My general feeling about the difference in business this year to last year is that people are still getting married and brides do want a lovely dress. Brides may not be spending quite as much on their wedding as they were originally planning.
Although we have also has some postponements of weddings until next year or even 2011, we have had a lot of short notice weddings this year as there seem to be some good deals on venues. I normally start some advertising at this time of year and with the DBID’s help and support I have managed to do this. Their support has given businesses like mine a bit of a boost and helped to raise the confidence in the market place.”
One of the longest established family businesses in town is of course Goulds. I asked Managing Director Teresa what her feelings were. “We are cautiously optimistic that after some very difficult trading conditions there are small signs that the situation is improving a little. Dorchester has not suffered from major job losses, which has helped to cushion us from the worst of the recession.
Looking forward it is still too early to talk of a recovery but we do believe that the town seems to have weathered the storm better than other towns and is well placed to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.”
And so finally, to one of Dorchester’s newest businesses ‘Poppy’s’ selling children’s clothing. I caught up with Lorraine who has just opened her new shop in Durngate. I asked her what had made her decide on opening a shop here in such a tough trading climate? “We felt there was a strong need for better choice in children’s clothing in town. With Adams closing Poppy’s children’s wear hopes to help fill the gap left and offer residents and visitors a great range of clothes and shoes specifically catering for boys and girls from 0-12 years all at very competitive prices. We are also looking to do school wear. We love Dorchester and are very excited about having a shop in the centre of town”.
So there you have it, Dorchester is fighting back against the recession and against general trends in the high street. With the buzz that I felt walking around our county town I feel sure that Dorchester is very well positioned to come through these challenging times and flourish long into the future.
As a foot note, I can report three more new arrivals. Trinity Photographic in Trinity street, GS Handbags and Footwear in South street and hot new arrival Eureka now open in the Tudor arcade.
Hope to see you there soon.