Rallying cry to help Norfolk’s shops

A rallying call has been made to boost the business of independent traders this Christmas to prevent them disappearing from the high street.

Shopkeepers, MPs and business leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk, have spoken of their desire to see more people shopping locally to help the East succeed in the tough economic climate.

Across the region yesterday, store bosses and town centre managers spoke of how a successful Christmas was vital for many traders to survive into the new year.

But a business professor from the University of East Anglia has refused to be 'gloomy' and predicted local retailers would 'buck the trend' and perform well over the Christmas period.

Professor Paul Dobson, head of Norwich Business School at the UEA, said: 'The economic announcements over the recent days are pointing to a difficult climate where people are going to be uncertain about their jobs which will make them reluctant to spend. 'However, I am predicting the East Anglian economy to buck the trend. We are in an area where unemployment has not been hit as hard as it has nationally, which means more people may go out and spend with independent traders.

'Lets not get gloomy and despair. However, we are at a critical point. As I often say with independent businesses, we either 'use them or lose them'.'

An EDP survey in the summer revealed shopkeepers were 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.

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This strain means local traders are becoming more reliant on the Christmas period to boost revenue.

Jonathan Newman, town centre manager for Great Yarmouth, said: 'The festive shopping season is particularly crucial to the success and, in some cases, survival of the town's independent shops and businesses.

'The importance of shopping locally cannot be underestimated as money spent locally stays in the local economy longer.' Paul Clifford, centre manager at the Vancouver Quarter, King's Lynn's busiest shopping district, said despite the tough climate, late night shopping had grown 16pc in King's Lynn year on year.

He said: 'It's getting tougher and tougher for independents out there. People are using their cars less and retailers are having to work harder to get people through their doors.

'But having independent traders alongside national stores is great because it is having these unique shops which helps give Lynn the edge over other towns.'

However, one independent retailer in Halesworth, Suffolk, feels it is the small market towns which are really suffering.

Rita Doughty, owner of Merlin's Shoes, in the Thoroughfair, Halesworth, and chairman of the Halesworth Town Centre Partnership, said: 'If you speak to any retailer in Halesworth, they are struggling. I'm just keeping my head above water.

'Our car park in the town is full and that is not from people shopping in the town; that's people who get their free bus ticket to Norwich to go shopping in the city.'

However, Robert Dunham, who owns Country Pets and Country Field Sports, in North Walsham's Market Place, said he was celebrating his best-ever year in 15 years and put his success down to trading in a 'bit of a unique market.'

Elsewhere in Norfolk, one business leader has urged shoppers to consider independent traders for their diverse products and unique customer service.

John Adams, the trading director of independent department store Jarrold's, Norwich. said: 'As an independent, we can have a mix of products and can react quickly to popular trends where some of the national stores can't.

'We have a thriving retail quarter in the Norwich Lanes and successful department stores across Norfolk with Roys and Palmers where customer service is the cornerstone of the business.'

One Norfolk MP has called for a different model in market towns if independent retailers are to thrive in the future.

MP for Mid Norfolk George Freeman said: 'For too long Norfolk has had to put up with a London vision of Norfolk based on dormitory villages and big commuter housing estates.

'With good infrastructure such as fast broadband, rail and road links, smaller pockets of decentralised housing, for local people, spread more evenly, and small businesses back in our towns and villages, there is no reason we cannot have a thriving local economy.'

Meanwhile, MP for Great Yarmouth Brandon Lewis said: 'Every pound spent in a local store is a pound spent helping to keep our community alive.'