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Threat of Whistles is blown away

There was a little bit of cheering at my store The Hambledon the other week, courtesy of ex-Topshop brand director Jane Shepherdson and a Drapers news story.

We always keep a pretty close eye on the competition, both locally and nationally. We’ve seen the arrival of Hobbs, Jigsaw and Phase Eight into Winchester during the past 18 months as a broadly positive move. They have made the high street here a more appealing destination, brought more people into town and certainly have not trodden on our toes in terms of product or proposition. We are awaiting the imminent arrival of LK Bennett with anticipation more than trepidation.

But Winchester has a massive development planned for 2010 with 108,000sq ft of mixed retail to regenerate the city centre, and we have been haunted by the prospect of more damaging competition and more specifically the potential threat of Whistles. Old-school Whistles is the stuff of Hambledon nightmares: lovely shops, great visual merchandising, a little bit of boho for the school-run mums and a taste of Notting Hill for the London refugees. This wouldn’t tread on the toes of my business, it would kneecap it.

So hurray for Shepherdson. I admired her anyway but I salute her for wanting to reinvent Whistles as a more chic, sharper store for a younger, more sophisticated consumer. Now I must hope and pray my loyal 30-somethings stick with Odd Molly for the morning playground scene and don’t defect to Shepherdson’s Audrey Hepburn satin numbers to keep up with the 20-something Joneses.

Victoria Suffield is the owner of lifestyle retailer The Hambledon in Winchester, Hampshire

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