February 5, 2015
Plan to promote Burnham as 'retro shopping destination' splits council

New plans to promote Burnham as a 'retro-on-sea' shopping destination to encourage vintage shopping enthusiasts and visitors have been unveiled this week, with mixed reactions.

Town Centre Manager Bev Milner Simonds, right, told town councillors that the plan would help to promote Burnham in a unique and special way with charity shops and other traders encouraged to sell more vintage items and, with the creation of a retro-shopping map of Burnham, attract more visitors.

But councillors this week gave the proposals a guarded welcome and said more research is needed before it is adopted as a marketing strategy.

Cllr Louise Parkin said the plans are "totally the wrong way to go for Burnham." She added: "This idea is wrong in so many ways - we are not Bath, Clifton or Notting Hill and I do not believe that putting a few 'vintage' items in a cabinet or wardrobe in each of Burnham's charity shops will help drive masses of vintage shoppers into our town."

"However you spin it, it will not be a true vintage destination. We should be building on what we already have and what we already do well and not trying to con the public."

"But my biggest concern with this is that it's helping the businesses in the town centre that put the least in and certainly give the least out - the charity shops, who pay a maximum of 20% of business rates, employ 90% volunteers, sell donated goods, and do not pay VAT. Their contribution to the local economy is zero."

"Worse still, they are opposing shops that do pay VAT, employ people, and do use local tradesmen, not outside contractors, for work. These are the people we should be helping, unless of course you actually want more charity shops in the town. I would add that obviously the charity shops cater for a need and that their causes are undoubtedly worthwhile and that I don't have a problem with charity in general."

Town Centre Manager Bev Milner Simonds said: "Of the 207 businesses in Burnham town centre, 11% sell shabby chic, second hand, vintage themed and retro products. I am looking at building a brand for Burnham and am exploring various ideas with businesses to promote the town centre and attract extra footfall."

"The zeitgeist at the moment is for vintage, retro and remade fashion, homewares and lifestyles - and there's a constant theme on recycling, upcycling, craft and homemade products on mainstream TV, magazines and newspapers."

"This is just one idea for building a brand for Burnham. I am trying to work with what we have - I can't change who rents the shops but I can help to attract more footfall to the town centre, which I hope all businesses would benefit from."

"The businesses I have spoken with so far are keen to look at the possibility of designing a vintage trail map, which would be distributed within the town at each target shop and regionally to draw people into Burnham."

"This taps into vintage tourism, brocante tours and those day trippers looking for an unusual find. 11% is a small, but significant opportunity to work together and bring more people into the town for something unique."

Cllr Paul Young said he feels the range of shops in Burnham is not there. "We have three supermarkets in Burnham which have practically destroyed the High Street - the range of shops is just not there to support an idea like this."

But Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton said: "It's quite a big change that's being suggested, but many do like the vintage and retro style. I do wonder, though, how long it will remain? We need the options to be investigated further."

Cllr Phil Harvey told the meeting: "The team at BIARS, the tourist information centre, often tell us that they meet visitors who have come specifically to Burnham to visit the town's charity shops. It's a difficult balance in a seaside town - I fully understand that some say the charity shops do not put anything into the local economy, but if they draw some people here then they spend more here in Burnham."

Cllr Ken Smout told the meeting he supports the plans, explaining: "We have got to give our Town Centre Manager a chance to try something new. We must also ask whether we want charity shops or empty shops because people are deluded if they think we are going to attract Marks and Spencer and other big names to Burnham. There's a real danger that people are being unrealistic in expectations."

The Town Council agreed that the proposals will be further investigated and discussed at a meeting later in the year.

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