Meet the Hastings business owners attempting to save the high street
From oriental food and drink to kitchen utensils, individual cafés to bridal gowns, Queens Road has a little something for everyone.
Located between the town centre, the Old Town and the railway station, the half-mile street of businesses offers variety and a promise to the town.
Away from the world of online shopping and big name chains, Queens Road is packed full of individual businesses looking to save, and improve, one of Hastings’ busiest high streets.
Charles Francis, who has owned Chef’s Ware alongside his son Angus since it opened in November 2017, said all the business owners in Queens Road have a joint target: to save the high street in an increasingly difficult climate.
“We’re like a little family here”, Charles said.
“We have a Facebook group where we all update each other on things and get to know one another.
“The threat from online shopping is huge but we (Chef’s Ware) try to offer something you can’t get online – top customer service from people who understand and love the products they’re selling. It is about making sure we give people the traditional shopping experience but also making sure we have the stock, so we have what people want.”
Charles’ son Angus encouraged people to consider buying locally to help improve the high street.
He added: “When you buy something online from one of the big online giants, you are taking money away from the strength of our economy.
“The way these companies manage their taxes means services, like the NHS, which make our country great, are failing.
“Every time you buy online, that can contribute to an increase in business rates, an increase in costs, for local businesses. Those people are not thinking about the small businesses.
“For every pound spent in the high street, a percentage of that goes straight back into the local economy.”
Charles and Angus’ business has grown in strength since opening in November 2017. In September last year they opened the second half of their shop and the father and son said a lot of their success is to do with the other unique businesses in Queens Road.
One of those is Sunshine European Café and Bar.
Located just four doors from Kitchen Ware, the café owned and run by Irina Lazareva, from Latvia, has had a presence in the road since opening in December 2016.
Irina, who has lived in Hastings for ten years, said she fell in love with the town before opening her business.
She said: “We offer something you can’t find anywhere else in Hastings.
“As the owner, I don’t get to see all the customers but I certainly see a number of them coming back in. That is important for us because it shows it means something to them.
“Hastings is my home now. I love it here. The people are very friendly and polite. I wouldn’t change it.”
Irina’s business is not the only one providing food and drink to the people of Hastings.
Jez Smith opened the Queens Deli in November 2017.
He said the inspiration behind his business was to provide ‘the very best of everything’ while providing a service which cares for the town.
He added: “This is the hard part. We want to provide the very best meats, the very best of everything but not everybody wants to pay for it.
“If they appreciate the difference in the quality, which our demographic does, then they are likely to support us.”
Jez said he has enjoyed becoming a part of the community in Queens Road.
He said the community feel in Queens Road means businesses support each other as they are all trying to make some money and ‘offering something different’.
He added: “It’s exciting to be part of a changing road.”
Another business offering something different to the people of Hastings is the Oriental Supermarket.
Manager Ting Zhuan said the supermarket opened in 2015 before moving into larger premises last year.
Ting believes the success of their business has been their ability to attract customers from out of town.
She said: “We have people coming in from Bexhill, Battle, Eastbourne, all different areas. We are the biggest Oriental shop in Sussex.
“We’ve seen shops closing in the town centre so that has been difficult but Primark has been a huge help.”
When asked how she thinks Queens Road could be improved, Ting said she would like to see the road become one-way so customers could park near the store.
Parking was also an issue raised by Gemma Wells, the manager of The Hastings Baby Shop, which moved across Queens Road in February to a larger premises after 12 years.
Gemma said: “Parking is horrendous.
“Quite often, we have to leave the shop, which means locking it up, to take a product out to a customer who has parked in a temporary spot round the back.
“All round the shop is filled up with permits. Parking is one of the biggest issues.”
Despite the parking issues, Helen Ingham, who owns bridal shop Bustles and Bows, said Queens Road has improved since she opened her business 22 years ago.
Back then she said homeless people would routinely sleep outside her shop and even come in to beg for money.
She said: “I spoke with the town centre manager to work out how we could deal with the issues like rubiish and graffiti to move forward in a positive way.
“It’s definitely better than it was 15 years ago.”
One of those to benefit in that time is Victoria, the owner of the White Rhino, which celebrated its fourth anniversary on Saturday.
The owner of the gift, jewellery and furniture shop said: “All our products are fair trade and if they can be without plastic they will be.”