Local shopping can stop 'ghost towns'

FAILING to support local traders could bring the spectre of “ghost towns” to Essex, a commerce expert has warned.

James Hore

FAILING to support local traders could bring the spectre of “ghost towns” to Essex, a commerce expert has warned.

John Clayton, chief executive of the Essex Chamber of Commerce, said shops in rural and coastal areas were among those in the most danger of failing - and people had to re-think how they did their shopping to help them survive.

Business leaders have described 2009 as a “make or break” year and have stressed the importance supporting independent stores and producers.

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Mr Clayton said he believed shoppers would not miss a national chain such as Woolworths in two years' time.

But, in its absence he said it was now down to semi-rural and coastal communities to make the most of their local shops and independent retailers or risk them turning into “ghost towns”.

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He said it was important that the smaller businesses survived so they were still in existence when things pick up.

“This is not a time to be losing what we have already got,” he said.

Mick McDonagh, manager of the High Chelmer Shopping Centre in Chelmsford, agreed it was now “unchartered waters” for retailers and claimed many failed shops only had themselves to blame.

He said: “Economic correction was overdue and inevitable but made infinitely worse by the meltdown of global financial markets and the inevitable erosion of consumer confidence.

“However, some of the failed retailers simply failed to move with the times, the present downturn being the occasion rather than the cause of their demise.

“2009 will be tough and whilst we cannot change the world, innovative retailers will continue to gain market share.

“Cheaper money in the form of lower interest rates on mortgages, VAT and lower petrol prices will hopefully persuade the Great British public to start spending again.

He said last year has been particularly difficult for Chelmsford's retailers, with Woolworths, MFI, The Works, Dolcis, Zavvi, Roseby's, Stead and Simpson examples of shops that were no longer in the town.

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

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

“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,” she said.

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