Morning morning. June’s given way to early October, the sly bastard. For those of us not fleeing Britain for warmer climes until mid-September, this is frankly beyond the pale. Every year my thoughts turn to emigration on a pretty permanent scale. Sadly the reality hasn’t come any closer.
I was up obscenely early yesterday so ambled into town and was rewarded with £1.98 for the Small Change charity collection. While pleased about this, I was not so pleased with the state of the town’s shops. Anyone who knows Hitchin (a largely rather pretty market town with a beautiful church and a fair amount of character in its streetscape; ranging from Tudor to Victorian before a number of vile 20th century blips remind you that yes, nowhere was safe from town developers during the 60s, 70s and 80s) will be aware of the eyesore that is the closed Woolworths store. It’s a large retail unit on the main high street that’s sat dormant since Woolworths’ sudden demise. The final day of trading at Hitchin Woolies was 30 December 2008. That’s a scarily long time the unit has now been empty. The rumour mill churns over the usual fears about it becoming a Poundland or something equally awful.
Hitchin’s well known for having a good percentage of individually owned shops; non-chain retail as well as the usual suspects line our streets. As I walked the streets I counted 14 retail units which lie empty. That’s not including the godawful Churchgate centre that spoils an otherwise impeccable market square, and which is scheduled for demolition and replacement (if the locals are ignored) by a largely unnecessary and overblown development which will kill Hitchin as the historic town it is. The Churchgate development plans can be seen here. They’re not set in stone by any means, but how much do developers really listen to local people? Elements are lovely, but the view down the hill to St Mary’s Church will be gone, and more national chain stores will appear. But that brings me back to my disappointment at all those empty units. One, I notice, will soon be open as a ‘cheap wine’ store. It’s the site of two previously closed off-licences. So it’ll last a year perhaps? For crying out loud. If we can’t fill the units in the prime areas of town (thanks Clement Joscelyne for closing down your admittedly vastly-overpriced shop and leaving a lovely building empty), then what makes anyone think we can fill some massive new development? Grr, to be quite honest with you.
Hmm. I’ve ranted. Most unlike me. Anyway, development or not, there’s still rubbish and money on the streets every morning, so when sleep is not my friend, out I’ll traipse…