Norfolk and Suffolk small and traditional shops at risk from supermarkets claim

Fears for the future of high streets in East Anglia's rural towns were voiced yesterday as a popular family butcher's closed for the last time.

As the doors closed at KE Hutson in Pakefield, near Lowestoft, owner Cleeve Hutson blamed supermarkets and changing shopping habits for the demise of the business which was founded by his grandfather in 1947 and grew to 14 branches at its most successful.

And similar concerns were raised in towns across Norfolk, including Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Kings Lynn, that supermarkets were strangling small businesses and changing the face of the county's high streets.

It was claimed supermarkets were killing small shops by undercutting their prices on certain ranges of goods, offering free parking and setting up rival convenience stores.

For the last five to six years Mr Hutson, 43, from Beccles, had noticed a large drop in custom at his Pakefield butcher's – with one recent Monday seeing only �48 being spent.

He said: 'They [supermarkets] are killing the small shop off. Younger people seem to prefer going to a supermarket to do all their shopping in one go.

'It is just very sad that the traditional high street and its shops are disappearing.

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'Britain used to be a nation of small shop- keepers but now it is becoming a nation of just very large shops.'

Mr Hutson's comments were echoed by Nigel Dowdney who runs shops at Earlham in Norwich and Stalham and is a director of Buy Local Norwich and of the Association of Convenience Stores.

Mr Dowdney said Norwich, which now has more than 20 Tesco stores, was an example of the spread of supermarket chains.

He said: 'It is sin that shops such as KE Hutson are disappearing because of the supermarket.

'It is getting worse as they [supermarket chains] expand more and more into the convenience store trade – just look at Tesco Express.

'They are pushing their way into the high street – and it is not just the high street but shopping parades and suburbs as well.

'It is becoming a local monopoly,' he said.

'They are targeting small businesses because we are vulnerable. We can not compete with some prices.

'They are only interested in selling that stuff that goes quickly. They are not interested in the depth of range available.

'The average independent convenience store has 3,500 to 4,000 items available – Tesco for example only has between 1,500 to 2,000.

'People are going to lose choice in the long run if this continues,' he added.

In Sheringham there has been heated debate over plans to open a Tesco in the town's Cromer Road in about a year's time.

Eroica Mildmay spearheaded the Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Overdevelopment which fought a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful planning battle against Tesco for more than 13 years.

She said there was no doubt supermarkets were 'sucking out every last drop' from the region's high streets and fears Sheringham's three greengrocers, two fishmongers, two butchers and two bakers would be in 'real danger' once the Tesco store opens.

Ms Mildmay is concerned that if shops begin to close because of Tesco's impact 'the rot will set in' as shoppers find less reason to visit the high street.

She said: 'People start going somewhere else and that leaves the other shops stranded and struggling.

'I am just so exasperated. Tesco are like a virus – their stores spring up everywhere. It matters because independent stores, run by independent people, add flavour. Norfolk has a charm about it. It has got character and purity because it has not been corporatised. I don't want us to lose that.'

She claimed that supporters of big supermarkets wore 'Tesco goggles' which prevented them from seeing the downside to the arrival of big supermarkets in Norfolk's market towns.

In Yarmouth there are also fears the town's several large supermarkets were impacting on small shops and traders.

Christine Nichols-George, who runs the market stall Nichols Seafood, said: 'Supermarkets just keep trying to undercut everybody,

'They're not happy selling beans – they want the lot, clothes and everything. I try to shop as locally as I can. If you don't use the town we're going to have no shops.'

Her husband Darran added: 'In the town centre you have to pay for parking, so at supermarkets you are a fiver up before you start shopping.

'It is strangling the town. We are tiny little firms competing against multi-million pound chains. They can put stuff on at a loss to get people in and we can't afford to do that.'

Angie Tavernier, store manager of Yarmouth's Palmers department store, said: 'The town centre shopping experience is now greatly hit by the supermarket industry as they are sited on the outskirts of the town and class themselves as a 'one-stop shop'.'

In King's Lynn, Clifford Prior had to close his family butcher's shop two months ago as it was no longer viable.

Mr Prior's grandfather Hector opened the family butcher's shop on King's Lynn's bustling Saturday Market Place in 1930.

Two months ago, the family closed it after more than 80 years of trading on the site because it was no longer viable.

'It's a combination of things why we closed our shop in King's Lynn,' said Mr Prior. 'Trade slowly dropped off when Tesco moved out of the High Street 15 or 20 years ago. When Morrison's opened by the railway station that again affected trade in the town a bit.

'Our end of the town had seen a lot of change over the last few years, our end of the town slowly got less footfall, less customers and our business just wasn't sustainable any more. We couldn't keep the shop open.

'It's down to a whole multitude of things, you can't wholly blame it on the supermarkets,' he said. 'People's shopping habits change. I can't see people are going to travel into the town when they can park for free on the Hardwick.'

Mr Prior, 59, now runs a butcher's shop at Dersingham and a counter in Knight's Hill Farm Shop with his sons Trevor and David. Both businesses are thriving.

'We get people who come to us from the Woottons who won't go into King's Lynn because they can park here for nothing, it costs �1.40 an hour in King's Lynn,' he added.

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

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