Owners of independent businesses in Bicester are urging people to support them rather than the big brands and want to see business rates scrapped.
The call has come following a reduction in footfall in the town and as competition from big multi national brands increases.
Tim Stansfield and David Hoole from Stansfield & Hoole in Market Square-one of a few independent coffee shops in Bicester town centre-are urging local people to shop locally rather than always automatically heading for the big chain coffee shops that now dominate so many town centres.
Tim said: “We have seen a massive change in the town in the last six to nine months. When we opened in August 2017 it was brilliant. We were very busy-we did a bit of local advertising, but social media and word of mouth really brought the customers in and it was full on. We hired staff, opened seven days a week and it was all going really well and then we hit a slump.”
Earlier this week a Facebook post from the café commenting on why there had been such a dramatic drop in customers generated hundreds of comments from people supporting the café and generally giving good feedback.
Tim added: “David sat in the cafe that afternoon and the café was empty, the Market Square car park was empty and he thought it shouldn’t be like this.
So, he posted our thoughts on Facebook and the response was incredible. With a few exceptions people were really supportive and said genuinely lovely things about the café-we just want more people to now come in, meet us and enjoy our menu. We are very proud of what we have achieved and we want to share it with as many people as possible. We had such an overwhelming response that we had to disable the comments in the end as we just couldn’t keep up with responding to everyone. We were really surprised by the amount of people who commented.
“We know that other traders in the town are feeling the same-everyone is seeing a huge change. The big national brands are just saturating us and small independent businesses need support and need people to use them rather than always heading for the big brands.”
Tim added: “High business rates do not help us either because we get nothing for them-we still have to pay for our bins to be emptied. There are really no advantages for us but we have to still pay business rates-and that means selling a lot of coffee.”
Tim and David have a committed and loyal team working with them but there is a danger that rising costs and falling customer numbers will affect the cafe. Tim added: “We have to hope that things don’t get worse and we have to keep going. We love it here but so many small businesses are struggling. People say there is nothing here in Bicester for them but there really is and we are calling on everyone to start supporting local independent traders more and to make Bicester a destination location.
“People need a reason to visit the town. We need more events, really good themed markets and a variety of really interesting, unique local shops but the rents are so high that it makes it very difficult to sustain that. If rents could be lowered then Bicester would start to come back to life because smaller businesses would be able to afford to move in.
“Many traders feel that that the Market Square should not be used as a car park but pedestrianised and turned into an events space. It would bring the town together more and give people a real reason to come here if there was more going on. We have culture, we have so much history here and we have a group of dedicated independent traders and business owners offering really good services to local people. We love it here and want to stay but we all need to be supporting our local businesses a lot more before the big brands just take over even more and Bicester becomes a completely faceless town with no identity of its own.”