Antiques shop is pushed to brink

Michelle Smith at Off The Wall, in High Street (Old Town), Hemel Hempstead
Michelle Smith at Off The Wall, in High Street (Old Town), Hemel Hempstead

Businesses in an historic part of Hemel Hempstead have been suffering as roadworks choke off their supply of customers.

Things have become so bad for High Street shop Off The Wall, which depends on a steady flow of browsing customers, that tenant Michelle Smith fears she will have to close down.

Ironically, roadworks being carried out in Old Town are to improve the area – and boost its businesses.

“My shop is the kind of shop where people will come in and browse and then maybe buy something they didn’t know they wanted,” said Michelle. “I am not client-based like hairdressers, dentists or beauty salons. I need a steady stream of people passing by.”

While the works have been going on there has been virtually no footfall during the day which is bad for Michelle, whose business has been struggling for several years.

Trade is so poor some days that Michelle is forced to shut up shop and sell her wares at car boot sales instead.

She is calling for more help from Dacorum Borough Council although 15 per cent has already been knocked off business rates, which is usual for this type of scheme.

“I want these improvements because I believe they will be good for the Old Town,” aid Michelle. “I will be devastated if I end up losing my shop before the works are even completed when I’ve waited so long for something positive to happen.”

She fears if other shops are also on the brink, the Old Town could be filled by chain stores or empty units, and the area could lose its character.

If the shop does have to close, it will be missed by Michelle’s customers.

Karen Gilbride, from Hemel Hempstead, said: “It’s a delightful little shop full of hidden treasures.

“It would be a real shame to see it close.”

Allen Della-Valle, from Watford, said: “It’s one of those niche shops with very original and unusual stuff which is now very rare on high streets. I live in Watford and it’s worth making the trip to Hemel for.”

Another shopper concerned about the prospects for the area added: “We will have some nice, pink paving slabs out there, but not any Old Town High Street.”