The Place Where Anyone Can Try Their Hand At Business Without Losing Their Shirt.
When the Waters Family decided to change their milk supply depot in Rope Walk into an Arcade of 32 Shops it was Bill Waters who took on the job of demolition and construction.
These amazing pictures are a record of that period in the late 1980’s. Bill did 90% percent of the work himself, both dismantling the old building, leaving just the perimeter wall standing, constructing the new building, yes that’s him up there bolting the roof trusses together, and fitting out the shops on both the ground and first floor.
The Arcade was an immediate success and soon all 32 units were filled with local entrepreneurs, making it a popular place to shop. It had an atmosphere all of its own and a pretty comprehensive collection of businesses including a thriving cafe, Jempsons cake shop and a newsagents run by Amic Patel.
Other businesses included John’s Swap Shop, Rye Hire, The Launderette, John Soan Gentleman’s Hairdresser, Roy Lemon’s Music Shop, The Donkey Sanctuary Shop, Shoe Repairs, Country Folk Wool, Sylvia’s Lingerie, Mick’s Green Grocery, High Society Dress Agency, Faye’s Ironmongery, Sence of Tyme, Arcade Games, Video Hire Shop, Country Hair, Sergent’s Carpets, Tops & Bottoms, Coastal Discount and many more. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were transition times for business. The High Streets around the country were reeling under the Supermarket explosion that had started with the abolition of Retail Price Maintenance in the 1960’s and culminated with the demise of small businesses who were now precluded from purchasing stock at a viable price. The small units at Rope Walk offered inexpensive selling spaces on a monthly basis. Heating was included so the rent and purchase of stock was the only initial outlay. No lease meant just a months notice. It gave a large number of people a chance to be self employed without a financial disaster if things did not work out. These were great times for the Arcade. Business boomed and the customers came in great numbers. On Thursdays, when the General Market was operating in the Car Park, it was hard to walk around in the Building because of the number of people. There was a waiting list for shops. By 1993 things were changing fast, Currys, Tesco, Sainsbury etc. had all but cornered the market. One of the few local retail business’s to survive were Jempson’s of Peasmarsh. They took on the Supermarkets and beat them by developing a close working relationship with local farmers and producers. They were already part of the NICA organisation and were able to buy big enough to ensure competitive prices in their own store. They were to go on and build a large Superstore at Peasmarsh in 2002 on the same site where they had started their much expanded tiny family business in 1935.
It was the start of a big change around at Rope Walk Arcade when Jempson’s, who were not able to extend their Bread and Cake shop, moved to premises in Market Road. Rye Hire needed more space soon after and moved to Cyprus Place. The newsagent was next to go and then the Greengrocer’s. Service businesses were able to survive at Rope Walk, but retailing was suffering.
Antiques and Collectables
What could the small man buy that could not be purchased at a chain store cheaper? The answer was Antiques and Collectables. Soon half the units were taken up by shops selling Bric-a-Brac. Antique and Collectable Auctions became a regular Friday evening event and the Rope Walk buzzed with activity again.
The antique and collectables period faded when the ‘minimalist movement’ started to take hold. The fashion trend towards small furnishings was a direct result of much smaller houses with little room or storage space for ‘clutter’. A lean time for the Rope Walk began and soon there were empty units both upstairs and down. New managers came with new ideas but despite face-lifts and innovations the trend could not be bucked and the days when the Rope Walk Arcade buzzed with noise and bustle were not reproduced.
Things are on the verge of changing for the better. The Waters family are leading the troops again and the national trend is changing. The Tesco Horse Beef scandal and their recent admission that they had ‘cooked the books’ to forecast much better profits, have changed the public’s perception of the business that has become the second biggest landowner in the country in their efforts to deny suitable sites for competition rivals. Only the government owns more land. This, and the public’s growing knowledge of the ‘real’ prices that food can be retailed at by smaller groups like Aldi and Lidl have exposed the loss leader and half price tactics of the supermarket giants. The Horse Beef scandal has resulted in the general public returning to traditional retailers, green grocers, and butchers experienced a sharp increase in trade, and the interest to get good food and know where it comes from has seen a massive increase in Farm Shops selling fresh produce from local farms.
A Building Packed with Stock, Bargains and Service
All these factors have leaned in favour of a great revival at The Rope Walk Arcade. For the first time in several years all the units are let and there is a waiting list for new businesses that want to be part of the revival. Those that have not been to Rope Walk recently are in for quite a shock.
The whole building has been renovated on the outside but inside the quantity and variety of new stock for sale is amazing. The atmosphere of the place has changed completely, customers always get a warm welcome. The cafe, now run by Debbie Waters, is first class and not expensive.
The old saying, “I’ll meet you at Rope Walk” is popular again. This is local enterprise at it’s very best. The idea of the Waters family in 1987 to create a place for the ‘small man’ to start a business without the risk of entering into a long lease that could spell disaster if things did not work out as planned, is a marvellous concept. Rye was a town of small shopkeepers before the day that Retail Price Maintenance was abolished. Many people were employed by the small businesses of Rye, most were full time and many worked their whole life for a single Rye business. Of course, we are a long way off from returning to those great days of the 1960’s when Rye had a shopping centre with few equals, but as Rope Walk was the last to really suffer, as trade in the town went down and down, it follows that this will be the first place to enjoy an increase as the trend for shopping with the small man continues. A place where anyone can start a business
“Rye’s Own” December 2015
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