Small business owners in Aldershot have described its pop-up shop initiative as a success, but fear it is unlikely the scheme will lead to empty units being filled in the town.
Rushmoor Borough Council arranged for the vacant Burton and Dorothy Perkins unit in Union Street to be occupied with trade stalls during the Christmas period, launching Aldershop on November 9.
The shop doors closed on Christmas Eve, earlier than the planned date of January 5, due to business owners having family commitments and plans for the week between Christmas and new year. The scheme was also affected by a number of late withdrawals by businesses in the lead-up to Christmas.
Despite these setbacks, town centre manager David Phillips said: “It was a big venture which was very new to us, but we really feel it was worthwhile.
“For the last block, pretty much everyone said they wanted to be part of it but were struggling over the Christmas period,” he said. “We said all along, it’s their shop and it’s their choice.”
He said feedback was being gathered from tenants and that the pop-up shop principle was one that may be repeated in the future. As well as filling the empty shop during an important time of the year, one of the aims of Aldershop was to encourage small business owners to think about opening permanent shops in the town, which has been plagued by empty units for years.
However, some business owners felt the leap from running a stall for the £10 per day fee charged by the council to paying full rent and other fees would be impossible for most.
Eva Roberts, 29, who ran the Handmade Silver Jewellery stall during the second block and returned between December 21 and 24, said: “It was good timing as the business is quite new and this tied in with the launch of it quite nicely. I was still working on the website on my laptop in the shop.
“It was nice to meet people that you are selling to, which you lack with a website.”
Miss Roberts, who has lived in Aldershot for the past year, added: “Longer term, having been in the shop only a few weeks, I don’t think I could open my own shop. It was quite hard carrying on working on the business while running the stand. People brought work in but some felt they couldn’t bring it as it would maybe be messy.
“Individually, I think it is difficult for most, but if there was a joint effort it could happen.”
She said the town had not been particularly busy in the lead-up to Christmas, most probably due to the poor weather and because many shoppers had gone to larger towns with more retail offering.
“I wasn’t going there thinking it would be really successful financially but I got the word out about my business,” she added.
Kayleigh Drew, 27, took her Handmade Window Stickers Facebook business to the town centre, operating at the same time as Miss Roberts.
The mother-of-four, from Soden Road, said: “Online, people tend to know what they want, but, in the shop, a lot of people who were looking ended up buying. I can’t grumble – I definitely made the rent back. It was good to see if it could work.
“One thing customers were saying was that there are so many empty shops they didn’t realise we were there until they walked in. It’s quite dire in town at the moment and if people don’t want to spend, they don’t tend to go looking.”
Asked whether she felt she could take the plunge with her own shop now, she said: “It would really come down to how much the rent would be as it’s quite a lot of money and, being a parent, it’s not money I have got lying around.
“I would love to have a shop though but it is a big jump and you have to know it would be received well.
“You need to be 100% sure.”