Has anyone else noticed how many cafés have sprung up around the town in the last few months? It’s over two years since Leopolds and Opera on Abington Street led the charge, but St.Giles Street is now positively bursting with the best Arabica coffee, smoothies, biscotti and paninis!
This isn’t such a bad thing: as the former Chairman of the Northampton BID I was at the forefront of those championing the town centre as a place to experience rather than just for retail therapy and it is interesting to note that the American survey cites 46% saying there should be more community based events such as the Northampton Music Festival, the Abington Street Bandstands and the Market Square Beach. Coffee shops have long been associated with community and I was struck recently by the community spirit present amongst the patrons at Café d’Italia on Fish Street: Manuel, the proprietor, knows many of them by name and, most importantly knows how they like their coffee not too hot, with/without sprinkles or with an extra shot. Personal service .. the key to retaining your customers, enhancing their experience and creating the best chance of them coming back (into town) again soon – that’s the end-game here, surely?
Chown Commercial have completed café and eatery lettings this quarter at 4a and 7 Fish Street and 48 The Drapery. Each serves a niche market (Crepes, Sushi and those waiting for the busses in The Drapery) and we wish them all well. At a time when café’s are enjoying a renaissance as a result of wi-fi we hope that they will enhance the vibrancy of the town-centre and encourage those who have shunned the town to return to enjoy what is on offer.
Elsewhere in the American survey 50% ranked their cities Waterfronts as their favourite open-spaces. The University of Northampton recently played host to a one-day conference focussing on the Waterside and much was made of the Universities’ planned move to Avon/Nunn Mills. As part of the regeneration of the town, and for the new café’s, this can’t come soon enough along with the relocation of the County Council to Angel Street. The development of the Bus Station, railway Station, Cube and St.John’s student hall of residence are all vital to our town but only the latter brings in new people to replace those that no longer come following House of Fraser’s closure. Sadly the students won’t be expected to be high-end spenders but they’ll drink coffee like the rest of us and add to the vibrancy of the town. This numbers game has been at the heart of the recent "Free Parking discussions: footfall numbers are up but is anyone buying anything? Two hours free in the week doesn’t allow for "dwell-time” that the coffee shops need to survive and thrive and all-day free at the weekend seems to be encouraging people in when the town is busy anyway.
Maintaining its focus the town centre, July saw the Council’s consultation on the Grayfriers site. There’s no simple answer here, but a creative plan to inject a new sense of place at the heart of the town and enhance both economic activity and vibrancy is surely the best way forward for the 4 acres sitting in the shadow of the Grosvenor Centre. Could we lead with our stomachs, as the American’s do, and establish a penthouse "farm-to table” restaurant atop a mixed use development, as is the current popular trend?
I’m off to read the latest news on my iPad over a "flat-white”: care to join me for a chat?
For enquiries around town Stephen, Jon and Hannah at the Chown Commercial Retail Team can be contacted on 01604 60 40 50 or via the newly updated www.chowncommercial.co.ukwhich now includes regular blogs – accessible via wi-fi at all good coffee-shops.