‘Help save my quirky shop’ – Owner’s plea as Old Town antique store faces closure

Michelle Smith of Off The Wall Antiques
Michelle Smith of Off The Wall Antiques

The owner of a distinctive Old Town antiques store says continued low footfall in the newly-renovated High Street could be the cause of her store’s ultimate demise.

Michelle Smith, who runs Off The Wall Antiques – well-known for its displays of wicker baskets – is calling on the public to help save her 14-year-old shop, which has fallen into arrears over time.

Michelle Smith has problems with her 'Off the Wall' shop in Hemel Hempstead Old Town. PNL-141021-120716009

Michelle Smith has problems with her 'Off the Wall' shop in Hemel Hempstead Old Town. PNL-141021-120716009

The businesswoman has now been threatened with eviction from the Dacorum Borough Council-owned property if she can not pay back a large sum of her debt – totalling almost £5,000 – by next Tuesday.

The 53 year old has set up a ‘crowdfunding’ site dedicated to raising the vital cash in just seven days, with the hope of keeping what she describes as one of the more interesting High Street businesses alive.

She said: “My arrears are long-standing, but the roadworks haven’t helped me at all – they were devastating for everybody here.

“But, although it looks pretty, it is still like a morgue up here and people are being alientated by the confusing parking restrictions.

“The council promised us they would heavily promote the Old Town, but they think the monthly markets alone can reverse years of decline.”

During the year-long regeneration of the Old Town, Dacorum Borough Council – which itself pumped £1.1million into the scheme – offered a business rate relief of 15%, the ability to defer payments, and financial awards to eligible businesses including Off The Wall as a consolation for the overrun works.

The authority’s assistant director of finance and resources James Deane said he could not comment on individual cases, but added: “The process of evicting a trader from their premises for non-payment of rent is not taken lightly and is the culmination of a long process during which the Council makes all efforts to arrange manageable repayment agreements.

“We only use eviction as a last resort to protect publicly owned assets.”

But Michelle believes it would be a blow to the Old Town to lose another retail business – following the recent closure of dolls and gift shop Enchanted Castles – in favour of even more service-based offerings such as salons.

The antique seller says she is not asking people to donate money for nothing in return, as those who contribute to the shop-saving total can enjoy discounts and vouchers to use in the store.

She added: “After waiting so long to see the High Street improve and get some of its vibrancy back, I will be devastated to fall at the last hurdle and I really want to continue trading as one of the few independent antique shops left in the country.”

Michelle’s fundraising site has reached almost £600 but is still a long way short of the £5,000 target.

For more information or to donate, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-my-high-street-shop.

Moderator’s note: Comments have been disabled on this story as some contained alleged personal information about the shop owner and claims about private life. While we always appreciate debate being taken up on our website, we cannot publish potentially defamatory remarks. Comments of this type continued to appear even after some had initially been removed so we have had to re-publish without any comments. Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for updates on this story as well as a selection of the comments in our letters page.