Renaissance of key town centre street helping to put Hitchin firmly on the retail map

Hermitage Road, Hitchin

Hermitage Road, Hitchin - Credit: Archant

You’re looking at the hottest street in Hitchin. Even though Hermitage Road still has empty units and building work in progress, punters are heading there in droves – and fans say things can only get better.

New research has shown footfall increasing along three key shopping areas of the town – which has also been named in the top 20 per cent of a table of the 500 best places to shop in the UK.

The annual Hitchin BID footfall survey found visits to Hermitage Road were up an average of eight per cent, with further rises of about five per cent in High Street and 1.5 per cent in Bancroft. However, ‘peripheral’ areas such as Sun Street, Bucklersbury and Bridge Street all showed falls.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “We are finding people are now visiting Hitchin for what’s on offer at Hermitage Road, for its home improvements as well its restaurants, furniture, carpets, interiors and home improvements.

“With the opening of the Hermitage Rd Bar and Restaurant, the imminent arrival of kitchen company Magnet, and a host of businesses selling audio, computers, home furnishing and restaurants, the area around Hermitage Road is full of vibrant stores – and long may it continue.

“Levels of interest have been very high regarding the former Monsoon and Early Leaning Centre premises.

“There will always be a natural churn when it comes to empty properties but there is a buzz about the place – and Hitchin has more than held its own during the recession.

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“Our survey is a snapshot of footfall and dependent on variables such as the weather. When we conducted it this year there was drizzle – so the figures could well have been even higher.”

Michael Debnam, owner of the Men at Work hairdressers which has just moved along Hermitage Road to bigger premises, said: “It’s great to see the area on the rise. I was born in Hitchin and my business has been on Hermitage Road for 10 years. At one point there were five empty shops alongside us.

“Once the hotel and flats are finished it’s really going to flourish.

“This end of town has traditionally been seen as an ugly duckling – but now it’s very much on the up.”

The footfall results follow a ‘vitality report’ which saw Hitchin ranked 97th in a list of the top 500 centres in the UK. Consultant Rob Lea told the Comet: “Hitchin’s high ranking is due to a combination of factors. The vacancy rate is relatively low, and the proportion of less desirable retail tenants, such as pawn brokers or betting stores is particularly low, at less than five per cent.”

A further report published on Monday placed Hitchin 56th in their list of ‘hot’ shopping destinations outside London, with Letchworth in 64th place.

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