Training to keep independent shops alive

SPECIAL training is being given to independent retailers struggling to stay afloat in west Suffolk amid high rents and competition from the internet.A study carried out by Bury St Edmunds Town Centre Management shows the town has one of the lowest shop vacancy rates in the country - four per cent as opposed to a 13 per cent national average.

SPECIAL training is being given to independent retailers struggling to stay afloat in west Suffolk amid high rents and competition from the internet.

A study carried out by Bury St Edmunds Town Centre Management shows the town has one of the lowest shop vacancy rates in the country - four per cent as opposed to a 13 per cent national average. The figures mean Bury is very popular with retailers and empty units are quickly snapped by businesses.

But competition also means rates and rates for town centre businesses are “high”, according to the town management team.

The team's findings come as two long-established independent retailers announced they were pulling out of the centre of Bury.


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Stone Angel, the fashion store in Hatter Street, has closed and the hardware merchants Tools and Things, in Churchgate Street, is relocating out of the town centre under new management.

Nobody was available for comment from Stone Angel but the new owners of Tools and Things said it wanted to offer customers greater space and places to park.

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Tools and Things is being taken over by DJ Evans and moved to the latter's premises in St Botolph's Lane.

Roger Ling, of DJ Evans, which has been in the town since 1925, said the business was now one of last remaining independent tool firms in the town.

He said a planning application had been lodged to turn the three-storey Tools and Things premises into offices. Explaining the move of Tools and Things to DJ Evans's home in St Botolph's Lane, Mr Ling said: “We've got more space down here and we've got parking, which is better for customers.”

Steve Peters, town centre manager, said independent retailers were at the heart of what Bury had to offer shoppers. He said: “The actual interest in shops in the town is very good. Independents have to work a lot harder - their margins are very slight and they've only got small amounts of money to play with. Bury is known for its independent shops so we've got to do everything we can to help them.

“We carried out a range of training in different aspects for them earlier this year. I am optimistic for the future of independent retail in this town, though nationally it is a struggle for them. For anybody who wants to start up in Bury we will help them as much as possible.”

Chrissy Harrod, president of Bury Chamber of Commerce, said it had been a poor summer for most independent businesses but added a new map had been produced showcasing what the town had on offer.

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