I was sad to hear that long-time independent boutique shop Reba (formerly Balagan) in Cathedral Square, Peterborough is closing after 19 years trading in the city centre, with January 11th being the final day. I’ve fond memories of descending the steps into the shop which opens up into a little Aladdin’s cave of display cabinets and shelves, searching for that elusive gift for someone hard to buy for.
More recently Rachel has been one of the key champions of independent retailers in Peterborough so the closure of Reba and the loss of yet another niche retailer is a blow to the “indie” campaign and Peterborough’s retail offering. Even the Reba “message of the day” blackboard outside the entrance of the shop has been a nice addition to what is already probably the best dressed shop in the Peterborough.
Reba owner Rachel Parkin put together such an emotive press release to announce the closure that I wanted to publish it here. I’d like to wish Rachel and staff at Reba all the best for the future.
END OF AN ERA
When I opened Reba way way back in 1994 As a young 24 year old I wanted to bring something different to the city. I fell in love with the building, its vaulted ceilings, stone walls and air of timelessness. My logic was, if you’re going to spend all day somewhere it should be somewhere beautiful. I’ve never regretted my choice.
Fast forward 19 years. While Reba has had many incarnations it has always offered something a bit different from the norm, either handmade, beautiful, quirky, or from a small label or company. I’m a firm believer in the “have nothing that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful” adage.
Sadly, it’s the end of our time here in Peterborough, a city that has for the most part been kind to us and supported us with enthusiasm. For many people reading this, this really won’t register as important in the grand scheme of life and of course it’s not really up there with finding a cure for incurable diseases or anything so noble, but it is, in my estimation at least, the end of an era, and not just for my little shop.
It’s an embittered and embattled time for small independent retailers, rents are way out of line with the footfall that’s a daily reality on our high street, business rates are unbelievably high and all this against the backdrop of the highest internet usage in Europe means that it’s no longer reasonable for us to continue in Peterborough.
On a personal note, this saddens me, not only for the good people who’ve lost jobs at Reba through no fault of their own, many of whom have worked for me and together for years, building great relationships with each other and our customers. But also for the city. Not because I think we are irreplaceable, but because what we need more of on our high streets are independent shops and businesses that bring character to an area. The thought of a city filled with clone stores interchangeable with any high street in the country is to me, simply not appealing but it is the future we are looking into.
I’ve always believed that a great business comes from the heart. Sure money in the till is the final demarcation of success, but doing something well and with passion, professionalism and enthusiasm should be applauded – I worry for fledgling businesses trying to start in the city…. Where would you open to try out your business idea? If we don’t have spaces for these new businesses where will our young entrepreneurs go? Without that entrepreneurial spirit what will be the cost to the city in lost ideas, talent & youth?
So what has happened for us to finally call it a day after 19 years….? Well, the change in demographic of the city has had a huge impact. The work on Cathedral Square, while necessary to upgrade the city, took a massive toll on shoppers habits and then the never ending increase in parking charges… But the final nail in the coffin was the opening of the Peter Brotherhood retail park. Why would a customer pay to come into town to shop when they can pretty much get what they need out of town with free parking to boot?!
We’ve long been told that we can have it all. We’re the internet age, we can shop online and then visit an indie store, Garden Park, farmers market or thriving market town. Except of course we can’t! Or at least if these other sales avenues are going to exist outside of the traditional high street then rents and rates have to change and fast! Today, not tomorrow, that kind of fast.
Many of you reading this will have seen our campaign to promote independent retail in Peterborough through the launch of the indie retail map and local indie retailers. When I started this campaign early in 2013, I already knew that we would have to close, but I promised myself that if I was going to leave then I would leave with my head held high knowing that I had done everything in my power to challenge attitudes both in consumer’s minds and within the ranks of the authorities responsible for making many of the decisions detailed above.
So how do I feel about the closure of Reba today? If I’m truly honest, I feel as if I’ve failed. Logically I understand that 19 years can’t really be construed as a failure, but that is most certainly what it feels like. I understand that the odds were against us from the start…. But it still hurts.
As a wholesaler too, this story of mine isn’t just “my story” it’s being played out on High Streets up and down the country – We are in a time of change and it’s my belief that when the dust settles we’ll end up with a deeply divided system. Indie shops will, for the most part migrate to affluent pockets, market towns, community driven areas and out of the way places that can support them without crazy rent demands. Whilst our cities will become soulless clone towns that are interchangeable with every other high street in the UK.
While I might sound like a embittered doom merchant, that’s really not my intention. I’d merely like to point out that this is happening in front of our eyes. The opening of yet another betting shop in Bridge Street must surely be a wakeup call?
My vision for the city is for an aspirational centre, not because I’m a galloping snob, but because apart from it being pleasanter socially for each of us to live in a city like that, it also makes sound economic sense. Companies looking to relocate and bring their workforce with them will be looking at the amenities on offer… A vibrant city centre is high on their agenda. This is and always has been about so much more than simply “shopping”
I’d like to make it clear that I’m not “Peterborough bashing” I’m just reporting on things from my own little corner of the world. Peterborough has been good to us and in return we’ve tried to give something back. My vision was and remains to something different, to celebrate individualism, to offer choice and variety and fun…. It was not about purely making money, lest anyone confuse the two.
Facing our 20th year of trading, taking the decision to exit our lease has been a difficult and emotional one for all of us concerned. We would like to thank our staff, our suppliers and of course we’d like to thank the people of Peterborough and the surrounding areas, who have supported us for the past 19 years. We’ve had a blast and we’re so grateful to have been part of your lives. We wish you the very best.
Finally, I’d like to thank the local media who have always been very supportive of us and the council. If you’re out and about shopping, please support the other indie retailers in the city.
We would like the farewell for Reba to be a celebration of our 19 year history, so if you are in the city centre before the 11th January please stop by to check out the sale and say goodbye!
19 facts about Reba
- We opened in September 1994 – the no 1 then was Wet Wet Wet’s Love is all around.
- In 19 years we’ve only had 6 managers.
- We’ve employed some of the Reba girls from the age of 16 through to becoming parents (& beyond)
- We’ve had 6 Reba babies.
- The Reba building is a scheduled ancient monument (for those of you who’ve wondered why we don’t do anything about the steps ðŸ˜‰
- When we opened I was told we were crazy and no business survived there…. As a retail location it’s not an easy one that’s for sure.
- The girls have always sworn that there’s a ghost…. They call him Alan! To lay to rest a Peterborough myth I’ve never encountered him.
- The Hangman’s Gaol door that used to hang in the museum was given back to us and is our stockroom door – complete with gruesome markings ðŸ˜‰
- We’ve had one robbery! Who breaks into a gaol!?!
- We are precisely 5.5 feet under street level
- The building has been a men’s clothing store, a Christian bookshop & a pharmacy (to my knowledge)
- In 1994 the minimum wage didn’t exist (but hourly rates were around £2.50) today it is £6.31(for over 21 year olds)
- In 1994 there were no websites & internet usage had just begun. Faxes were the order of the day! Oh and no-one had a mobile phone – Let’s take a second to remember that ðŸ˜‰
- Our top selling item when we opened was the inimitable incense stick! In 2013 it’s scarves !
- When we opened we were called Balagan, this is a Hebrew word meaning chaos ! We changed it and rebranded in 2006 to separate ourselves from our wholesale design business.
- Reba started from a Saturday market stall (next to WH Smiths) and yes it was cold in winter ðŸ™‚
- We’ve had a few celebrities through our door, all of whom we never thought to photograph
- Our jewellery designs have been featured in Grazia, Heat and a host of other fashion magazines.
- We wanted to end on a grand finale, but we can’t begin to count the number of people who’ve given or received a Reba gift over the past 19 years… It has to number thousands and thousands….. Thank you to every one of you. You have made the ride enjoyable! Sometimes slightly bonkers, but deeply enjoyable !
Goodbye from Rachel & the Reba girls