'Help retailers through economic storm'

A “USE them or lose them” warning has been sounded over Suffolk and Essex's local shops as traders bid to ride the 2009 economic storm.

Craig Robinson

A “USE them or lose them” warning has been sounded over Suffolk and Essex's local shops as traders bid to ride the 2009 economic storm.

Business leaders said it was crucial that shoppers continued to support independent stores and producers in a make-or-break year, especially after the rush of the festive sales has calmed.

With Britain still in the grip of the credit crunch and the disappearance of many well known and established retailers it is now more important than ever to back your local High Street.

Many traders are predicting a tough start to 2009 and last night members of the public in Suffolk and Essex were urged to use their local stores or face losing them for good.

Local food campaigner Lady Caroline Cranbrook, who lives in Great Glemham, near Saxmundham, said the importance of shopping local would increase in the next 12 months because of the uncertainty of the global economy.

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“In a time of great confusion, doubt and anxiety I think local will be the answer,” she said. “People will start to question whether long distance supply chains are economical.

“The solution will be local communities - at the heart of which will be the village shop. I am not against supermarkets per se - I have always said that you can't live without them - but my concern is that there are too many that are inappropriately large for our market towns.

“I think people would be very surprised if they shopped locally because many things are much cheaper than supermarkets - fresh vegetables and meat for example are not as expensive and are better quality.

“However local stores can only survive if people shop there - they operate on small margins and it doesn't take a lot to tip the scales in the other direction.”

Last year the EADT launched its Shop Local campaign to highlight the importance of supporting independent businesses and traders in the face of the mounting challenge from chain stores and the internet.

Sarah Green, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds Society, said shoppers had to support local stores because they were the “lifeblood” of the town and essential for keeping its character intact.

“We have wonderful independent shops and we must support them, particularly in these difficult times,” she added.

Richard Rout, chairman of Bury St Edmunds Town Council, said he had every confidence that local retailers would weather the economic storm.

Paul Clement, director of town centre management company Ipswich Central, said the reasons for shopping local in 2009 were two-fold.

“Firstly, the variety of shops in a town centre is far greater than what you will find in an out of town centre,” he said. “Secondly, in the current economic climate when shops are obviously struggling its incredibly important that people support their local town centres - not just the independent retailers but the larger ones as well because the spend has to come into the town centre to make sure it survives.”

Linda Thornton, chief officer of the Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce, continued: “A healthy retail sector is attractive. Without it, communities do not stand much of a chance of attracting new businesses that increase the variety of products and services available for purchase.”

John Clayton, chief executive of the Essex Chambers of Commerce, said it was vital that shoppers backed independent traders in the coming months in order to ensure they were still in business when the market picked up.

“Consumers tend to vote with their feet and tend to go to bigger outlets, but once the little guys are gone they are gone for good,” he said. “In the short term the outlook for next year is that it is not going to be one of the best years. But we need to make sure many of these smaller businesses survive so that they're there when things pick up. This is not a time to be losing what we have already got.”