‘Lack of fairness and equality’: Independent stores fight back over lockdown opening rules

Norwich Market during the second lockdown in November.
Credit: Sonya Duncan

Norwich Market during the second lockdown in November. Credit: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Independent shop owners in Norfolk say they face ruin while supermarkets and big brands continue to trade.

King's Lynn town centre in lockdown. Picture: Ian Burt

King's Lynn town centre in lockdown. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

They say it is unfair they are being forced to remain closed at what should be their busiest time of the year while bigger stores are able to open.

Shops which sell essential items and are allowed to remain open are also able to sell goods which are deemed non-essential.

Jonty Young, a spokesman for the Norwich Lanes – where many shops have had to shut – described the situation as “totally unacceptable”.

He said: “This situation has to change and it has to happen quickly. While independent businesses have locked their doors for the greater good, the supermarkets and many of the larger stores are bending the rules and exploiting loopholes wherever possible.

Gentleman's Walk in Norwich on the day the second national lockdown began. Picture: Danielle Booden

Gentleman's Walk in Norwich on the day the second national lockdown began. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden


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“Their business strategy is totally unacceptable.”

The government’s guidance says anyone selling a “significant” amount of essential retail can also sell goods “typically sold at non-essential retailers”.

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It says: “For example, a supermarket that sells food is not required to close off or cordon off aisles selling homeware.”

It adds, though, that if there are “sufficiently distinct parts”, with one selling essential goods and another selling non-essential, the area selling non-essential must close.

Sarah Simonds, who owns Artichoke boutique in Swaffham. Pic: Simon Finlay/EDP

Sarah Simonds, who owns Artichoke boutique in Swaffham. Pic: Simon Finlay/EDP - Credit: Archant

Certain stores, including Tesco and Marks and Spencer, have started cordoning off non-essential items, such as clothing, homeware and electrical goods, but they are still allowed to sell them in some of their shops.

Meanwhile, independents selling ‘non-essential’ items must keep their doors closed.

Norfolk Trading Standards has been working to ensure no stores breach the rules, but local retailers say the damage has been done.

Sarah Simonds, owner of the Artichoke ladies fashion boutique in Swaffham, launched her campaign for change earlier this week. She is frustrated that people can still buy clothes from supermarkets and some branches of Marks and Spencer.

The Norwich Lanes, a haven of independent shops, most of which have had to close. Pic: EDP

The Norwich Lanes, a haven of independent shops, most of which have had to close. Pic: EDP - Credit: Archant

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She started a petition, which has so far received more than 3,700 signatures, urging the government to rethink the rules. She is asking for shops to be allowed to open, saying they still provide an essential service by creating employment, preserving livelihoods and selling goods that improve morale.

Jonty Young, who is spokesman of the Norwich Lanes Association

Jonty Young, who is spokesman of the Norwich Lanes Association - Credit: Archant

She said: “My biggest concern is that once we’re allowed to open, the Christmas trade will be over as people would have bought not only from Amazon but also garden centres, supermarkets and Marks and Spencer.”

Darren Shearwood, manager of a family business Batemans Carpets, on Wroxham Road in Sprowston, sought advice from Norfolk Trading Standards after he found large national chain, competitors Carpetright, were opening because they were classed as a builder’s merchant and deemed to be selling essential items.

Carpetright has since revised its lockdown opening, limiting it to pre-booked appointments and the sale of building supplies, not floor coverings.

Mr Shearwood, whose family has been running the store since 2007, said: “It’s not about trying to shut down your competitors as competition is good, it’s about trading on a level playing field. November is the busiest month for us as people want to get new carpets for Christmas and other stores like Carpetright have now had a week’s worth of selling to people. How can we survive? I am beyond frustration at the lack of fairness and equality.”

Shelves in Tesco which have been cordoned off. Pic: Polly Thomas/Getty Images

Shelves in Tesco which have been cordoned off. Pic: Polly Thomas/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Anna Lancaster, who runs AW Myhill electrical store in Attleborough, said: “I can’t open my doors and sell electrical items but the local hardware store can or the big supermarkets... Heartbreaking times. This has already crippled my business and we have only just completed week one. Yet you go to hardware stores, garden centres, supermarkets and buy items that I sell still.”

Jewellers Nova Silver, based in Lower Goat Lane, run by Simon Millership and Julie Wallace, tweeted: “Why is it that my shop has to close while everyone is doing their shopping at @marksandspencer Norwich?”

Sophie Leney, head of Norfolk County Council’s trading standards team, said: “It is important that there is a level playing field for all businesses in the county and we are working hard to achieve this, working closely with our enforcement colleagues. We would encourage all businesses to follow the spirit of the lockdown as well as the letter of the law.”

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