As Bedford reopens after this long COVID Lockdown we all need to support its many excellent businesses.
A while ago you published a brilliant letter from Gemma of The Arc supporting the independent shops in Bedford highlighting their originality and that they are owned and run by local people. Their cry was, we are here, Bedford is not just a town of empty shops.
My family have been independent business owners in Bedford for over 100 years, from around 1918 when my grandfather lived above his ironmongery and general store in Mill Street, through my father opening his first hair salon in the 1930’s in the High Street to my brother continuing to run that business in Bedford.
Over that 100 years plus the town’s retailing and business offering has continuously evolved but the biggest change came around 50 years ago with the growth of department stores and retailing chains.
They prospered on the back of rising consumer wealth, bulk buying, as at that time there was no edge of town retailing or the internet. Their higher profitability led to higher rents which squeezed out independent businesses from the town centre.
What we lost with these businesses was the passion and originality of products and personal service that genuinely made a difference.
Going forward I believe Bedford will see the return of the independent shops and businesses to the town centre recreating that originality, service and vitality that will make us different to other towns like Milton Keynes.
The key to this is that commercial rents are falling, landlords are gritting their teeth and will accept less, creating exciting opportunities for new local businesses to occupy prime shop sites again.
What will Bedford’s Future Town Centre be made up off?
Well, that’s between residents, visitors and the businesses entrepreneurs to decide. We have many excellent businesses along with the cinema, the Higgins and the jewel in Bedford’s crown, the Embankment as well as the new businesses that will make Bedford a very different but great place to live and visit.
What can we do to help now?
Simple, visit those many excellent businesses that have just reopened and the market! They need you and there is so much they can offer us besides the opportunity to get out of the house!
Nobody will be made to sign a pledge to give up internet buying or visiting supermarkets but a visit to Bedford will remind you that there is more pleasure and fun to be had through shopping than just opening a cardboard box at home or pushing a trolley down a crowded supermarket aisle.
Finally a request to the Mayor: we have received over £150k from the government to help reopen the town after COVID-19. Bedford desperately needs a healthy dose of free car parking over the next three months to bring people to Bedford.
Three hours free in all the towns multi-storey car parks would be a great boost to traders trying to rebuild their businesses. The Boroughs’ market traders should have free pitches for three months. That would be money well spent and cost your administration nothing.
Cllr Roger Rigby
Deputy Leader Conservative Group
Bromham and Biddenham Ward