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The Stead & Simpson's shoe shop in North Walsham is due to close down. Manager Margaret Westgate, who has worked there for 37 years, pictured holding a petition against the closure, signed by residents and customers. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY
Thursday, November 15, 2012
A north Norfolk market town’s longest-surviving shop is set to close a fortnight earlier than feared, despite a 2,000-plus signature protest petition and an offer of help from the area’s MP.
North Walsham residents and town leaders were shocked when they heard last month that Stead and Simpson, on Market Place, would close its doors on December 8 after more than a century’s trading in the town.
Now the six staff have been told by bosses that the shoe shop will actually shut on November 24 - and all pleas for a rethink appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb wrote asking for a meeting with a head office chief to try and find a solution which would keep the shop trading and save jobs.
But he has had a brief reply from Charles Smith, deputy chief executive of Shoe Zone, which bought out Stead and Simpson four years ago.
Mr Smith wrote: “Unfortunately lease negotiations with our landlord have broken down and there is nothing further we can do about this.”
Mr Lamb described the letter as “negative, perfunctory and abrupt” and said Mr Smith had not even responded to his request for a meeting.
“I had offered to help with negotiations with the landlord if necessary. I am extremely disappointed that they are not even willing to meet the MP given that the staff have worked loyally for many years,” he added.
And Mr Lamb, a lawyer who specialised in employment before becoming an MP, said the staff might have grounds for unfair dismissal since there did not appear to have been any consultation on the closure.
“Losing a job at any time is traumatic but at a time when families are preparing for Christmas it is especially distressing,” he added.
Branch manager Margaret Westgate, who has worked at the shop since leaving school 37 years ago, said staff and customers were very upset.
People had been flocking to sign the petition. “They have grown up with this shop and feel that it’s theirs. They are absolutely devastated,” said Miss Westgate who added that she knew the shop made a profit.
Her request for the head of retail to visit and listen to customers’ opinions had not been answered.
In a statement to the EDP, Naomi Shefford, marketing and property director for Shoe Zone, confirmed the earlier closing date.
She said closure was “due to poor sales performance and rising costs which make this location unsustainable.”
Ms Shefford added: “Our decision to close is not, in any way, a reflection on the commitment and hard work of our staff. Every effort will be made to re-deploy any personnel affected to nearby stores wherever possible.”