My local council have a warrant to evict me from my shop for outstanding rent arrears on 28th October. The warrant was issued only two days ago. I have a small quirky antique shop called 'Off The Wall' in the old town high street in Hemel Hempstead. Although I have found it impossible to keep up with my rent and repayments on a consistent basis over the last two years despite my best efforts, I have managed to pay the rent due and some arrears for the last 6 months. The reason I have embarked on this project is that, just when it seems things may improve, the council have decided to call in a large chunk of it giving me hardly any time to find it.
I have had the shop for 14 years and the last few years have been difficult as the old town did not get enough visitors. If you asked people why they didn't come up here, many said it was because you couldn't park or that there wasn't enough up here to entice them to come. The Old Town in Hemel Hempstead is the jewel in the crown of Hemel Hempstead, though most only think of Hemel Hempstead in terms of its new town and 'magic roundabout'. It is Hemel Hempstead's best kept secret where film companies often come to make use of its character and buildings.
I love the Old Town with a passion and even though I knew it would never make me rich, I kept trying to hang on to my business waiting for the improvements that were promised.
The local council finally embarked on a 'regeneration' project last year which was supposed to last 4 months but went on for 11 months and went hugely over budget with no penalty clause in place. The works were finally 'finished' in June this year. The disruption was so great that there was virtually no footfall whatsoever during these works and the whole street was closed to traffic on several occasions. During the time the road works were going on, I was going out at least four times a week to sell elsewhere, leaving my shop closed. If I hadn't done that I would have lost the shop then. Even now the road works are finished, they have put unsightly bollards outside while they decide what to do with a bus bay where there is no bus service and vehicles are ticketed constantly outside my shop because they think it must be for parking and I have spent my days in the shop warning people away as I do not want them to be ticketed.
Nevertheless the street looks beautiful and has a more upmarket feel and is starting very slowly to improve in spite of the parking issues. After waiting so long to see the old High Street regenerated and get some of its vibrancy back I will be devastated to fall at the last hurdle and I really want to continue trading as one of the few independent antique shops left in the country..
If I am able to pay these arrears, I do not want to get into this situation again so I am hoping to build a website which will mean I can trade online also and not just rely on footfall. However, I still enjoy meeting people in the shop and customers have often commented that it is great that a shop like mine brings a lot of colour and life to the high street.
In the past I have really enjoyed the fact that customers come in to chat and enjoy all the unusual items I have in the shop. Several have even said they like the smell of it - something you can only get in a physical shop. You cannot get this unique shopping experience any other way. There is a wonderful community atmosphere. I currently do have a facebook page which works well but I realise I do need to get a website to survive.
Despite the fact that I owe the council money, I would like them to put this into perspective. To close down one of the most interesting shops in Hemel Hempstead for the sake of a few thousand pounds whilst spending literally millions of pounds on poorly managed projects is not okay. I have hung on and worked 24/7 for the last ten years hoping to see the changes that were promised in the old high street. I would feel that it has all been for nothing if I lose the shop now. Please pledge if you can. I am not asking anyone to GIVE me money. I am not a charity. I have got lots of interesting items that people can exchange for their pledge.
Thank you for reading