City’s independent shops fight back with 40 new openings
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Independent shops are filling the void left by dozens of national store closures.
Almost 28 chains closed their doors permanently in Norwich between January and August this year, figures from the Local Data Company and accountants PwC show.
Fashion chains and electrical stores were hit particularly badly, with those two categories behind 11 of the 28 national shop closures.
Overall, 88 stores shut in the city in the first eight months of the year, while 47 have opened. Of those closures, 60 were independents.
But data obtained by this newspaper as part of our Shop Local campaign reveals 85pc of the new openings, 40 out of 47, are independent shops, meaning the fight back is being driven by local and not national chains.
In King’s Lynn it was a similar picture with 75pc of all new shops independents.
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The number of new stores has increased in the town this year, despite the lockdown, with 23 shutting and 29 opening.
Director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) Stefan Gurney said there were good opportunities for independent businesses, despite the pandemic, and encouraged people to keep supporting them.
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One of those businesses is Christophes Crepes, which launched its new shop on Pottergate in July after owners Chris and Lauren Smith spent lockdown delivering crepes to stay afloat.
Mr Smith said he was hopeful the run up to Christmas would help independent businesses.
“The reaction has been really positive so far, and things are going well,” said Mr Smith.
“People like that we are local and we use local products as much as possible.
“We did a lot of deliveries throughout lockdown because we didn’t really have the option to furlough everyone. The response was amazing.
“All our regular customers were ordering, and as soon as the shop opened, they all started coming here. It’s been emotional to see how the community supports us.
He added: “We know it’s not going to be easy. Some days there is no one around in the city centre, and the office workers and students are still largely missing. You need to be able to adapt.”
Mr Gurney said Norwich had always been a resilient retail centre and said the city’s catchment area of over a million shoppers meant it was often one of the last places chains pulled out of.
But he also warned businesses would not last if people only shopped online rather than support their local independents.
“Now due to Covid, there are lots of chains that are obviously struggling,” he said.
“But high street spending in Norwich since the pandemic is close to full recovery at 88pc.
“We are still seeing independent businesses grow and flourish.”
In King’s Lynn, where the number of new shops has increased, the council is in the process of bidding for funds from two government pots called the Town Deals and the Future High Street funds.
Millie Wilson, 22, decided to take the plunge and open the KandyMania sweet shop on Chapel Street in August.
Even with the new business now delivering as far afield as London, Ms Wilson said the support of locals was vital to keeping the business running. “I’m seeing many regular faces as well as new customers every day, and there has been lots of positive feedback from everyone,” she said. “I can’t thank everyone enough who has supported me in these times.
“It was so scary opening a shop in the current climate, but I have no regrets. “Next year we’re hoping to push on with more stock and start doing events like weddings and parties.”
The council’s cabinet member for business development, Graham Middleton, said: “While the situation is better than it was immediately post lockdown, it has still not recovered to the pre-Covid level.
“The statistics are however encouraging and show that King’s Lynn has weathered this well.”
Earlier this week Norwich was named as one of the first places in the country to be given a £25m slice of a £3.6bn funding pot aimed at getting homes built and kickstarting business locally.
The city was picked for the government’s Towns Fund, which the government describes as being an attempt to “level up” local economies by investing in transport, infrastructure and skills.
•What is happening nationally?
The Local Data Company tracked 210,365 outlets operated by multiple operators across the UK, between January 1 and August 31.
Since the start of the year 11,120 chain store outlets have shut nationally.
National chains that have closed in Norwich since January 1 include:
Boots - Colman Road
Timberland - Chapelfield
Las Iquanas - Riverside
Pret – Chapelfield
Cath Kidston – Castle Street
Paperchase - Castle Street
Coast to Coast - Riverside
Hawkins Bazzar - Castle Quarter