Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Traders in a Diss town centre street say their businesses are booming, despite concerns a lack of passing shoppers was forcing retailers to close down or move away.
The owners of Rooms with a View, Albright of Diss and Purple Door in St Nicholas Street, have reported a growing trade in recent years, which had resulted in more staff being recruited, despite fears shoppers were being enticed to spend more time at the Mere Street end of town by free parking and the presence of the large supermarkets.
Last week, the Mercury reported how children’s toy shop Toybox Toys was moving to the former Threshers Wine Shop in Mere Street after trading in St Nicholas Street for 16 years. Owner Roy Minshull cited dwindling passing trade as the main reason behind the move after a Diss Town Council survey showed 400 people passed near the Mere Street shop in two hours, more he said than he would have seen in a day in St Nicholas Street.
The shop’s departure was the second in four months as jewellery store Every Cloud had relocated from St Nicholas Street to Mere Street in April, also citing a lack of passing trade.
But Gloria and Alan Rowe, owners of Albright of Diss, have been trading in St Nicholas Street for 27 years and said their profits had increased during the last two years.
They pointed out a number of new businesses had moved into the street during the last couple of months, including the hairdressers VAE Hair Salon and an electronics shop and said a number of motorists had dropped in after noticing their shop as they were passing by, en route to the town centre.
Mr Rowe said the buildings in St Nicholas Street, which include the Diss Corn Hall theatre and St Mary’s Church, had a lot of character and history to them to go with the many independent stores which sold specialist goods which shoppers may not be able to find at more high street retailers.
He added: “I would say the street has improved rather than gone backwards. You will always see a couple of empty shop units wherever you go, but many motorists have to drive passed this shop to get to the main town centre public car parks.”
David Down, who runs interior design and furnishing store Rooms with a View with his wife Debbie, believed there may have been more of a market for Toybox Toys at the Mere Street end of town because there tended to be more families with children in that area due to the supermarkets.
But he said St Nicholas Street was a good place to do business and his turnover from June to August was the best he had experienced during this three month period since he opened his shop seven years ago, which had enabled him to recruit more staff.
He added many of his customers came from outside the Diss area, but were aware of the shop because it offers an individual and specialised service.
However, he felt the town council could help improve the situation even further by extending the time limit for free parking in the public car parks from one hour to two hours, which give shoppers more time to explore the town centre rather than staying at the Mere Street end because they needed to return to their cars.
“For us, it is a really good location to do business and we want shoppers to know that we exist up here and there are some really good independent shops in this area,” Mr Down said.
Graham Hart, who runs specialist gift shop Purple Door in Cobbs Yard off St Nicholas Street with his wife Sarah Bush, said his business had also grown since opening 13 months ago.
He specialises in one-off jewellery, pottery and gifts, which he sources from auctioneers and vintage fairs and said he would like more signs to riase awareness of the presence of the yard and St Nicholas Street.
“There are a lot of really nice independent shops in St Nicholas Street that a lot of people in Diss are not really aware of,” Mr Bush added.