CHANGE has been a key word in conversations involving the high street of late.

For some that means a change in options, with many national retailers, including Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Animal and more, announcing the closures of their Andover stores since the turn of 2020.

The borough council, meanwhile, point to the changing “nature” of high streets up and down the country, and a wider shift towards more than just a retail offering.

But for many local businesses, changes have already been made.

Whether making the most of unexpected opportunities or trying to turn negatives into positives, a number of smaller independent stores are embracing the challenge and making the most of the current retail climate.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the independents to show their worth to the town,” said Bev Power, owner of the Travelling Cupcake.

“The reason the big guys are going and we aren’t is that we don’t just do this to earn money. We do this because we’re part of the community as well.”

With stores shutting, Bev has used the extra space on the high street to reaffirm that place in the community by expanding her own business, taking advantage of one of Test Valley Borough Council’s “pop up” leases and opening a second store in the Chantry Centre.

And while it hasn’t been easy, the results are starting to show.

“It is a real struggle on the high street,” she added, “It’s not easy.

“But we had our busiest day ever on Saturday just gone.”

Richie Burgess, of Burgos Pet World, has also tasted similar success. After opening last year he says the response from shoppers has been “really good” and that he is already considering expansion.

And it’s the “niche market” of companies offering “personal, one-on-one services and experiences”, he says, that are seeing the best results.

Burgos Pet World is one of a number of new additions to the town centre.

Andover Business Improvement District (BID) says seven independent businesses have opened new units in recent months. The new arrivals include shops, a bar, an art gallery, a taproom, an ice cream and desert shop and more.

It means the town is building an eclectic mix of niche, independent businesses which can be of benefit to those already operating in the town.

Stu Briggs, who has part-owned La Di Di with his wife Steph for the last five years, said: “The bar that’s opened next door, that’s really helped us. Having some new social things definitely helps.”

“The town needs to have a range,” he added. “It needs to be broad.”

And while the internet has often been cited as the undoing of many high street retailers, La Di Da is again one of a handful of businesses to use that challenge to its advantage.

Burgos Pet World was an online business before opening its George Yard store, and Bev says she has uses online competitions to attract online shoppers back into store.

Likewise La Di Da is using the internet to its benefit, with a click and collect service that attracts that digital audience back into shops where they find a more personal, tailored service.

“It ensures we can build, rather than just survive,” Stu said of their use of online. “It helps make it a healthy business.”

Andover’s independent stores are also helping to dispel the myth that nobody comes into the town anymore.

A variety of owners told the Advertiser they have regular customers from the likes of Salisbury and Basingstoke, and as far afield as Portsmouth, Swindon and Reading.

Penny Sinclair, owner of Pennies haberdashery, explained: “Salisbury and Basingstoke are losing their haberdashery shops, and we are gaining those customers.

“We’ve got elderly ladies who come in on the bus from Basingstoke and they say, ‘my friends told us about you, we’ve come to see for ourselves’.”

And a quick glimpse of Penny’s store only confirms the town centre is far from dead.

Even at 10am, on a fairly grim Wednesday morning, a number of people were packed in the shop, browsing the aisles and chatting with Penny to work out what exactly they were after.

It may not be perfect, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Annabel Drabble, of At Last, and Jimmy Hibbert, of Dress 2 Kill, say they would like to see shops that are adjacent to the high street – such as theirs – consulted and included more by the likes of the council and the BID.

But measures are being undertaken to try to achieve that. And with the ambitious town centre rejuvenation plans gradually gaining steam, there’s no shortage of optimism in the high street.

Such project may not be completed for a number of years, but in the meantime businesses in the town centre are making a good fist of it.

High streets across the country are changing – and Andover’s is working hard to take that change in its stride.