Independents’ Day call to back Norfolk and Suffolk shops

Independent traders across the region battling to survive in the current economic climate are urging thousands of people to flock to their local town centre on Monday to celebrate high street diversity.

Members of the public are being encouraged to pack their nearest high street on what has been dubbed Independents' Day 2011 and buy at least one item from an independent shop.

Traders across Norfolk and north Suffolk hope a strong show of support might help 'break the habit' for some people who regularly shop at supermarkets and out-of-town destinations rather than their local shops.

It comes after a week-long series by the EDP which looked at the main issues shopkeepers are facing, whether or not our town centres are becoming 'clone towns' and what can be done to help shoppers and shopkeepers.

Dikea Korankianitis, owner of Norwich-based independent boutique DKA, will give away a free scarf for every clothing purchase as part of Independents' Day, a play on words of the American holiday which is also on Monday.

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She said: 'I believe people who run independent shops have a true passion and love for what they do and it is these shops which make high streets sparkle and stand out.

'This shop means everything to me and nothing makes me happier than people leaving my shop happy that they have purchased exactly what they want.

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'My regular customers are the people keeping me going and without them I simply wouldn't be able to survive with the way things are at the moment so this event will help me give something back.'

She added: 'I think it's important to have a mixture of chain stores and independent shops on the high street.

'But at the moment there seems to be a bit of an imbalance with a lot of independent shops closing and that is heartbreaking to see.'

Downham Market, in the west of the county, is a good example of a market town with a strong offering of independent shops with few showing signs of struggling.

Jim Carlile, from Reeds in Bridge Street, Downham Market, said: 'Independents' Day is a great idea and anything that encourages people to see what their local high street has to offer will always be welcomed by independent traders.

'Walking down a high street like ours, people will find plenty of quirky and different shops that don't meet the stereotype of chain stores.

'I like to think we offer something different that the major retail stores don't like reacting quicker to our customer needs.

'If there is something we need, we can get it much quicker than large companies who have to go through different departments.

'I also think shopping at independent shops is a different experience with better levels of service.'

The national drive to breathe fresh life into the region's high streets on Monday is being led by Skillsmart Retail and the National Skills Academy for Retail.

Anne Seaman, chief executive of Skillsmart retail, said: 'Raising awareness amongst the public is one of the biggest challenges smaller retailers face and our message is about encouraging the public to use their local high street and understand how important a diverse retail sector is.

'It's also essential that local retailers understand that to compete today they need to be top of their game. The time for sitting back has passed and action is required because your high street needs you.'

Chris Wade, chief executive of Action for Market Towns, which is supporting the national event, added: 'We need to keep our town centres as vibrant places where everyone can do business.

'Our simple message is: one good shop cannot save the high street but a handful working together maybe can.'

Independents' Day also comes after the government announced it had drafted in Mary Portas, TV's 'Queen of Shops', to conduct a review and come up with ideas to bring variety to so-called 'clone towns' and to reinvigorate town centres that are blighted by empty shops.

Prime minister David Cameron has said high streets should be the 'very heart of every community' and Ms Portas's 'no-nonsense approach' could help reverse the trend towards out-of-town and online shopping which has left one in seven high street shops standing empty.

Findings from an EDP survey carried out last month showed that shoppers want more free parking, more variety and cleaner town centres.

Meanwhile shopkeepers have called for lower business rates, cheaper rents and free parking.

The survey also revealed that 90pc of people across the region go to the supermarket for their food and goods but two-thirds of people are proud of their town and city centre and would shop locally if enough was provided in the high street.

But the EDP found that shopkeepers are struggling with rising costs, the VAT increase – from 17.5pc to 20pc at the beginning of this year – and the fact that people are not spending as much as they used to.

Norfolk experts also say that one of the problems is the issue of 'convenience' when it comes to shopping at the supermarket and large chain stores rather than the local shops.

Professor Paul Dobson, head of Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia, said: 'If you offer something different then it works.

'It's about breaking the habit and once you break the habit of going to the supermarket because it's convenient then you can get into the habit of using the local shops and market.

'With markets and small shops, once they have gone they are not going to come back so use them or lose them.'

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