Celebrate Local Businesses

And support Mill Road’s ‘Community of Communities’

“Would it be possible to start to focus on the importance that supporting local businesses is for the community? Particularly after the recent lockdown where lots of people started to shop more locally it seems a shame to lose this momentum,” writes Jo, in a comment below the Wider footways, barriers and bridge closure post.

We have a few posts about what local traders are doing…

There is a limit to what research Mill Road Bridges can do. And a limit to the time which local traders can devote to letting us know. We are happy to post about anything they’re doing.

Perhaps the best way is if we can get readers’ feedback on their experiences of great service and innovative ways of trading from local businesses.

Maybe you’ve more-or-less abandoned the weekly run to the edge-of-town supermarket, in favour of friendly local shops. Perhaps you’ve delighted in the quality and range of foodstuffs in Mill Road’s shops. And have you made discoveries that you’d love to celebrate, and to share with the Mill Roaders?

Over to you…

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11 Comments (Don't forget to scroll down to subscribe to website updates.)
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24 July 2020 17:32

Here is a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet that I have compiled containing details of every business (excluding pubs) along Mill Road.

The spreadsheet includes a description of each business, along with its address and categories. The address data is from Google Maps, and the description and categories were created by me. Please feel free to suggest improvements and corrections using Google Sheets’s comment feature or email millroaddata@gmail.com.

I hope this is useful to somebody for marketing purposes etc. Feel free to use it for whatever purpose you like, but bear in mind that the address data has come from Google Maps, so I’m not sure about the usage restrictions on that.

I have also produced a map with the same data on it, in this link.

Some highlights from the data:

  • By my count there are 149 businesses (excluding pubs) along Mill Road.
  • Of these, the vast majority (142, by my count, but this may be a slight overestimate) are independent businesses or charity shops.
  • There are 22 restaurants,
  • 17 grocery shops,
  • 16 cafes,
  • 17 salons (hairdressers, barbers etc),
  • 9 takeaways,
  • 8 estate agents,
  • 6 bicycle shops,
  • 6 charity shops,
  • 4 antique shops,
  • 2 dry cleaners,
  • 2 hardware stores,
  • 2 pharmacies,
  • 2 tailors,
  • 2 wine merchants,
  • an accountant,
  • an acupuncturist,
  • a bar,
  • a bed shop,
  • a book shop,
  • a butcher,
  • car rental,
  • a clothes shop,
  • computer repair,
  • a deli,
  • an electrician,
  • a florist,
  • a funeral home,
  • a furniture upholsterer,
  • a kitchen shop,
  • a locksmith,
  • a laundrette,
  • a massage therapist,
  • a mobile phone shop,
  • money transfer,
  • an optometrist,
  • a patisserie,
  • a post office,
  • printing services,
  • a second-hand shop,
  • shoe repair,
  • traditional medicine,
  • and a vape shop!
Reply to  Neil
26 July 2020 21:15

This is great! So interesting seeing it all listed out.

I can’t understand why someone, the MIll Rd traders, or the council don’t do some sort of campaign showing what’s here; how to get here etc. It would be so cheap and an easy win. Get some journos over, give them an intro to some of the shops – the best coffee, sandwich, book find, dry cleaner etc.

I totally get the traders don’t employ marketing agencies, and there’s a whole culture war about the bridge which I’m counting myself out of. But someone, maybe the council, needs to do something to attract people to the street.

And before someone leaps on me about gentrification- right now getting people into the shops is what matters. If that means reframing how Cambridge residents use the shops, do it!

6 July 2020 11:04

I think it might help to explain a bit about the financial side of operating a shop. Nearly all traders will have a lease, typically 6-10 years long, which is a legal agreement they can’t get out of within the term of the lease – they have to keep paying the same rent even if they are closed or conditions change so that sales drop. Also typically it will take around 6 months to agree the terms of a lease – so it’s not feasible for shops to open and close at the drop of a hat, although sometimes landlords may agree to let a shop “on licence” which means there is a less onerous agreement by both parties that the tenant will pay rent but will have to leave if the landlord gets someone permanent. The lease will normally require the tenant to keep the shop in repair at their own expense – it’s very different from residential letting where the landlord has the obligation to do repairs.

Having got a lease the shop then needs to be fitted out – likely to be around £2-10k+ depending on how fancy you want it to be and what work needs doing. Unless you’re a charity shop (or possibly an impoverished booklover starting by selling your own collection) you’ll need to buy in stock to sell and you’ll need to pay business rates. You need to physically put your stock on shelves.

Once you’ve done all that you can either run the shop yourself (or possibly with family) or employ staff. In either case you then need to engage with HMRC and either keep the accounts yourself or pay an accountant. You need to think about VAT and all your returns need to be made on time. If you’re selling food there’s a whole extra raft of things you absolutely must comply with.

Martin L-S
Martin L-S
3 July 2020 14:52

I posted a massive list of ideas in the comments section of the Wider footways, barriers and bridge closure post.

Copied below for easy reference – Web editor

Now that the bridge closure is in place, the Mill Road Traders’ Association needs to up its game and promote the street as a nice place to be. Currently the message they are unintentionally giving out is safety is not high on their radar, and in general giving off a lot of negativity.

    With a nice summer ahead, they should be calling for imaginative ideas to give the clear message that Mill Road is open, safe, and welcoming.

Here are some starter ideas:

  • Parking spaces and delivery spaces, along the street, as well as at each sideroad (1 short-stay plus one free disabled space). Traders always complain there is no parking – why aren’t they calling for this right now?
  • Pushing to allow tables and chairs on the street for al-fresco use. The cafes and restaurants will surely need this given that capacity indoors will be reduced if they are COVID-safe compliant.
  • Seating areas outside to rest and relax. People enjoying public space spend more money in the nearby shops.
  • Tree planters along the street (would have been lovely to have had shade today!).
  • Website promoting the street, with a shops directory, interviews with traders, etc.
  • Instructing their van drivers never to park on pavements – no excuse now without the queueing traffic.
  • Posters for house windows promoting Mill Road.
  • Flyer to all houses.
  • Booklet every 2-4 weeks featuring different shops.
  • Publicise the safety changes made by shops. (But what actually has been done inside the shops? Some I’ve been in seem to have done nothing, despite claims of substantial efforts being made along the street. The likes of Al Amin have clearly made excellent efforts though.)
  • Improving shop windows – some barely touched in years it seems, and it would be nice to feel that new customers are actually being enticed in rather than merely existing customers’ loyalty being assumed.
  • Flag bunting along the street – giving a sense that this is a welcoming place to come to, not just a traffic conduit as it has been.
  • What about something very eye-catching like this parasol art?

(More images on the BoredPanda website – Hundreds of Floating Umbrellas Above a Street in Agueda, Portugal)

  • Public art by children currently stuck at home.
  • Maybe… a Loyalty card (properly resourced though – Milly Card was a bit half-hearted); not sure as this would maybe just cut profits.
  • Gateway arch feature from Parker’s Piece to draw in sunbathers to buy food.
  • Open windows selling lunch for people walking by, with attractive displays. A stream of A-boards, some of which are not particularly enticing, isn’t really enough.
  • Events at weekends. Maybe a bit difficult while there is social distancing. (Though traders’ don’t seem to think this is a problem judging by today’s protest of >50 people…)
  • Twitter and Instagram accounts promoting Mill Road and what its shops have to offer. Imaginatively showing what is available. Separate to other accounts, i.e. not a vehicle for campaigning views which inevitably divide opinion, but simply to promote shops in a positive way.
  • Apply to city council for promotion grant or Mill Road co-ordinator to organise a lot of this.
  • Food selling outdoors on Saturdays, as on the day of the annual Mill Road Winter Fair
  • Barbers seating outside for queuing customers now that 1-2m not easy inside. (No doubt those against the current changes are presumably not planning to have seating outside, and so limiting their numbers, as that could look hypocritical.)
  • Rainbow pedestrian crossings – things like this that kids will want to visit, bringing families in.

Rainbow Pedestrian Crossing – University of Surrey

  • New delivery setups so that people shielding or wary of coming out can use the shops – provide an alternative to everyone else who now provides online ordering. (Al Amin are already doing this – Ed) That’s what traders have had to start competing against in the last 5-10 years, but especially right now. It’s not 1990 any longer; shops need to adapt. Many people are currently wary of coming out of their houses. Websites like http://www.clickitlocal.co.uk are already out there – how many traders have signed up or promoted this?
  • Secret shopper tests – frankly, some of the shops seem to treat shoppers as a bit of an inconvenience rather than be really friendly and welcoming. A smile and a thank you aren’t universally present when a transaction is made. Many, thankfully, are lovely and welcoming, but improvements could be made along the street.
  • Sorting out disabled access. Why is this still a problem in 2020? Some establishments have been threatened with court action, which frankly undermines complaints about disabled driver access over the bridge. Al Amin shows improvements can (and legally must) be made.
  • Traders website not updated since 2017 (has there really been no time in the last 3 months to sort that out?). Presumably this wouldn’t break furloughing any more than activities like poster creation and so on would have broken it. https://millroadtraders.wordpress.com/

(Note:The site which to which Martin refers, is the top hit on Google. However, this later iteration of the Mill Road Traders’ Association website‘s most recent update is October 2019, which is not much better. In the body of the blogpost I note that we have asked Mill Road Traders’ Association for a statement, and offered to link to anything appropriate which they post on their website. – Ed)

  • Reinvigorate the Mill Road Traders’ Association to cover more shops and a stronger democratic basis – seems to be the same people all the time, giving a single message of “Nothing must ever change on Mill Road”. Which traders do they actually represent, and to what extent? What work to set up street promotion has this body been doing for the last 3 months, for instance, knowing that even with the most perfect street arrangement, trading would always be very challenging?
  • Crowdfund for improvements so that these changes don’t come out of profits. Plenty in the community would be happy to help traders out to do lots of things in this list, if there was a more positive attitude. Though the city council ought to be providing a big grant to improve the street and do lots of the work, rather than continue to put all their efforts into the city centre (where streets are already much wider and more pleasant).
  • Ask the few larger chain stores like Co-op for assistance to fund soft street improvements.
  • Painting shop fronts and generally brightening up the street.

(Good to see at least two of the hairdressers’ being refitted and redecorated, including Mill Road Traders’ Association spokesperson Piero d’Angelico, and two restaurants – Maurizio Dining and Al Casbah. – Ed)

I have seen not a single suggestion in any communication over the last few weeks suggesting any of the above, only protest, sadly. Where is the imagination and desire to improve the street, irrespective of traffic changes?

I know from personal experience that running a business is hard and exhausting work. None of the above would just happen by magic. But there needs to be a sense to work together that Mill Road can be better.

There is plenty of opportunity in coming months for businesses. People have been stuck indoors and want opportunities to go out and spend money in pleasant surroundings.

For instance, any barber or hair salon on Mill Road who doesn’t have a full order book from 4th July would surely be doing something wrong when there are 20,000 people within walking distance on their doorstep – “the nation needs a haircut” as Matt Hancock MP said. Those places should be designing and flyering these houses right now, generating bookings and creating new customers who will return afterwards.

Reply to  Martin L-S
4 July 2020 15:17

Just saw a post on Twitter dated 25 June (I don’t know how to link to it) where Mick Brown (this is the name of his Twitter feed) quoted his friend from Berlin who said that these schemes can mean that necessary shops are destroyed and you end up with expensive cafes and special boutiques and all these shops which nobody needs. It’s worth reading. Sorry I can’t link to it.

Reply to  millroad
4 July 2020 19:32

Petersfield has lost and independent bookshop (Brown’s), one greengrocer (corner of Covent Garden); Romsey, two greengrocers. Romsey lost a fishmonger long ago and two butcher’s shops. Romsey has lost an independent white goods shop (G.A.N Electrical) that also did repairs. We had a lovely haberdasher’s and wool shop next to the post office. Romsey has lost the best bakery in town: Godfrey’s. We have lost independent clothes shops. Petersfield has lost a luggage shop – from where I bought a large trunk in the 1970s. (Still have the trunk, and the label with the price on somewhere).We had an independent shoe shop. And a shoe repairer (Cavendish Footwear) where you could buy shoes for hard-to-fit feet and whose owner was also capable of making bespoke shoes. Romsey has lost a branch of Balzanos, which had an eclectic stock of Italian, Polish and Iranian foods. Romsey lost what I think was the last letterpress printer in Cambridge. Mostly replaced by cafes, hairdressers, estate agents.

The drift to surviving shops being expensive has been well underway for some time. The butcher that has survived is now too expensive for me to use any more: gone are the days when Mr Fabish the butcher raised some animals himself, bought in whole animals, then boned and jointed them himself, which meant that there were always cheap cuts and bones for stock, as well as more expensive cuts. And he had his own smoke house where he smoked the most delicious Polish sausages he had made. (Its site is now a development of gardenless flats.) Cutlacks has gone incredibly up-market and is now mainly a lifestyle shop. It used to be Lowe’s and sold a wide range of ordinary hardware, ordinary range decorating materials and power tools and drill bits, sanding discs etc for these. The largest independent grocer on the street is too expensive for me and for that reason I never shop there. There is a newish delicatessen the Petersfield side of the bridge, but it’s the most expensive I have even seen in my life, so I don’t shop there, either. And I won’t pay £4.50 or even £5 for a loaf of bread or £2 for one doughnut to take out – prices I have seen locally.

Another thing that has gone is most of the working class people whose neighbourhood it was.

Reply to  Margaret
5 July 2020 08:07

It seems to me that there are some great ideas here.

I think that the idea of a flyer to local residences could be quite effective. I’m happy to help distribute flyers.

2 July 2020 08:48

I agree with the above. I have a similar shopping pattern but did a large shop at Sainsbury’s before lock down which I stopped doing. The only thing I would say is that loading and pavement parking is a problem Mill Road businesses must address. Some of the worst offenders actually have vehicle access at the rear of their shops so it’s habit, rather than a necessity.

The fast food shops need to sort out their loading times. Blocking off Mill Road traffic for 45 minutes is simply not on; but they get away with it, because law enforcement is a joke.

Edward Lloyd Jenkins
Edward Lloyd Jenkins
1 July 2020 10:53

Since late 2007 when the ‘No Tesco in Mill Road’ Campaign began I’ve stopped shopping at Tesco. Prior to that I shopped weekly at their supermarket in Milton and was a regular patron of their Café, but from then on I’ve shopped mainly at Romsey COOP, and at Hilary’s, or occasionally over the bridge at AL-AMIN. I always enjoy the friendly welcome at all these Mill Road businesses, and am able to buy everything I need provision wise in those stores.

Now I feel is a time of opportunity for entreprenuers to expand the range of shops within the length of The Road, so that people will be able to enjoy a full shopping experience there once more, without the need to go elsewhere.

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