|The Rushden Echo, 28th October 1966, transcribed by Jim Hollis
Rushden shoppers - luckiest in the country
Rushden is unique. It has more shops per head of population than any other provincial town in the country. This was the conclusion of a national survey carried out in counties all over the country and published in a trade magazine.
Not everybody accepts this, but it does suggest a reason why Rushden High Street has a constant turnover of shops closing or new shops opening.
During the past few weeks two shops in the High Street have closed after they had only been operating a matter of months. Both concerns spent a considerable amount of money on redecorating and giving a modern, bright shop front appearance and one concern is rumoured to have spent something like £3,000 on this work alone.
Now both shops are empty, and have been for some time. One is tempted to ask where else in the country would two modern fronted shops, ideally situated in the centre of the one and only shopping area, remain empty for so long.
But even if Rushden is over-subscribed, surely a shop offering something new and at a cheap price, would be successful. In most towns the answer would probably be yes, but not necessarily in Rushden.
Former president of Rushden and Higham Ferrers Chamber of Trade, Mr. Richard Phillips, whose father owns a furniture shop, said Rushden shoppers were probably more conservative than anywhere else in the country.
“There is absolutely no drifting trade in Rushden. It is almost impossible to poach custom from your competitor, and he has the same difficulty. People will deal with one shop and, in the main, always deal with them.
“Modern, gimmicky sales promotion is lost in Rushden. The shoppers are too shrewd.
“I would think most High Street traders can tell on any given day the number and probably the name of customers they are likely to see in the shop,” he said.
Mr. Jim Osborne, who runs a sports shop, said trade in Rushden, was extremely steady. He said because of the choice people could shop and get all they wanted without the rush and crowds experienced in a large city.
He agreed that there was a high number of shops opening and closing in the High Street, but in the main they were what he called ‘multiples’ concerns with branches all over the country.
“If you look down Rushden High Street you will see that the majority of shops are family businesses, many of which have been in the town for many years,” he said.
Mr. Barry Thomas, this year’s president of Rushden and Higham Ferrers Chamber of Trade, who also runs a newsagent’s business, agreed that Rushden shoppers were very conservative. He said he could probably tell seventy per cent of his customers on a given day.
He would not agree that Rushden was over-subscribed in shops, but admitted that over the years a fair number had opened and closed.
He thought one problem was that rents in the High Street were too high. Another was that shopkeepers wanted to modernise, but there was no overall modernisation scheme to work to.
He said he would like to see a new town centre incorporated into the existing High Street with pedestrian precincts and such.
If establishing a new business in Rushden is such a tricky affair, one wonders how the new shops which have been built opposite Skinners Hill and St. Mary’s avenue are going to manage. So far only two near Skinners Hill are occupied. Are the others likely to remain white elephants?