Ok, so the commercial vacancy in your market town is manageable. Units come up but demand is high. Smaller units get recycled as more established tenants seek to expand into larger premises. New businesses find a home – either as a first venture or as a sibling operation to somewhere else in Oxfordshire or further afield.
Commercial mix is palatable. We would all like to see more and more independents but sometimes a dose of the familiar is reassuring, as long as it reflects the aspirations of the town and its demographic. In Henley, Joules, White Stuff and Waitrose seem to fit the bill.
Instead then, lets look at some of the less obvious features of everyday activity. What makes the town function as it should – or at least in line with the aspirations of those who are the most vocal locally?
First up, A-boards – those moveable structures seen hanging around in packs on our street corners and pavements. The retail version of teenagers.
The merits of A-boards are a constant debate, in Henley as well as in other towns. Their function is to advertise up-to-date offers from businesses, as well as to signpost their existence. The parameters of the debate comprise unwanted clutter on pavements and suitable alternatives.
The true alternatives to A-boards are noticeable by their absence. Hanging signs, wall-mounted boards on pilasters or changeable fascia signs are all mooted. All have benefits and caveats. Traditional hanging signs are great, but lack flexibility. A good example of using building-mounted blackboards can be seen at Café Coco in Frideswide Square in Oxford. This would not suit every business. In turn, changeable fascias would send a chill down the spine of many a planning committee!
A question that has probably not been tabled in this context is the ever-expanding merit of social media. I have thought that I might try a pilot initiative in Henley this year so will not spill the beans as yet.
A policy to outlaw the presence of A-boards is difficult at best. A capacity to enforce will always lag behind a determination to place them out on a daily basis. Instead, the author feels that a Tolerance Policy is the best shared solution. Proper boards, good English, legible writing and well-managed information that is crucially up-to-date. The million dollar question concerns their placement.
Ideally, boards should be placed perpendicular to the shopfront in question, unless there is a better option. If there is a narrow pavement then options may be restricted. The DDA and subsequent accessibility audits to which most towns are subjected are right to flag up the inevitable impact on those who are mobility impaired, have restricted sight or simply mums with buggies. Be considerate, it’s about subtle marketing, not the customer literally tripping over your latest offer.
Henley has a penchant for clustering boards together. The end of Friday Street is a case in point. The pavement here is wide. The sight lines provide good visibility for businesses in this side street. However, it looks cluttered. Is there an opportunity for collective signage? To remove them completely would surely be detrimental to the businesses affected.
As for a final thought, is there a collective noun for a cluster of A-boards? On the negative side, the author suggests "a trip". Thinking positively, the author suggests "a menu".