New shop is smart operation

Just over six years ago Melvyn Rolph took a punt and against a shoe rep's advice opened the only shoe shop in Downham Market. Without a single regret the former fuel trader now has two shoe shops in the town and his new gentleman's outfitters has become the talk of the town - not least because it is bucking a trend in Downham.

Just over six years ago Melvyn Rolph took a punt and against a shoe rep's advice opened the only shoe shop in Downham Market.

Without a single regret the former fuel trader now has two shoe shops in the town and his new gentleman's outfitters has become the talk of the town - not least because it is bucking a trend in Downham.

Whilst Mr Rolph, 53, has been expanding his mini Bridge Street-based empire, to offer a specialist children's shoe shop, men's wear and shoe shop and ladies' shoe shop, others have been leaving town.

Mr Rolph says the town has come on in leaps and bounds since he opened his second shop, Smiths, in 2001, complimenting a shop in Cambridge, which he sold in 2006.

But more needs to be done to draw traders in - and to stop others leaving: recently an antiques shop and a curtain maker closed.

He has the backing of the town's chamber of trade which says rents are just too high and hopes to do a deal the landlords to get a trial reduction to fill some of the empty shops.

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“He has done a brilliant job,” said Margaret Key, president of Downham Market Chamber of Trade.

“But we need far more shops like that in Downham to encourage people living in the town and working elsewhere to shop in Downham.”

The chamber is talking to Baroness Gillian Shepherd, Norfolk County Council and West Norfolk Council in the hope of getting something like a two year rent reduction to encourage new independent shops in.

“Land lords would benefit from having their units filled and it would benefit the town greatly,” Mrs Key said.

The town council is also working to get more people into town with events in the town square, like having live music and regular craft markets.

Unusually for a market town its size, Downham Market also has two markets each week, on Fridays and Saturdays.

But in the mean time trade is strong at Smiths. Mr Rolph said: “It is working out quite well. I just play it by ear and offer what the customers want.

“And you can come to a town like this and get proper service, which people are not used to these days.”

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