Essex's county town has great variety

Reporter James Hore looks into what Colchester has on offer for those interested in a unique shopping experience.

James Hore

Reporter James Hore looks into what Colchester has on offer for those interested in a unique shopping experience.

Crouch Street is the perfect place to begin our tour of the town, thanks to its abundance of independent stores.

Among its gems are an antiques shop, florist and a traditional green grocers along with one of the town's most well-known attractions - H. Gunton grocers and coffee shop.

With a sprinkling of small bars such as the recently opened Qube and Roberto's, the quaint street is certainly unique and the independents far out number the national retailers.

Tesco staked its claim for the trade recently, launching one of its Express stores to the dismay of many, but so far the predictions of doom, gloom and closures have yet to happen with the smaller stores standing up to the new and bigger kid on the block.

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Earlier this year The French Tart bakery and patisserie also opened its doors to trade on Crouch Street - offering what its owner Vlajko Vukosavljevic believes is a unique experience in the area.

He said: “To my knowledge we are the only people in East Anglia who have a real French bakery.

“It took me seven months to find a location as a lot of the empty shops are only available to national chains - look around Colchester and there are lots of empty shops.”

With its winding lanes and smaller retail units, the town is well-suited to smaller retailers.

Chairwoman of the Colchester Town Partnership, Chris Rawlinson, said there was a higher percentage of independent stores than other towns in the area.

She said: “We have the lovely long street which is actually Sir Isaac's Walk, Eld Lane and Short Wyre Street, made up of small units and it has managed to stay this way when the trend for companies is to move into larger shops.

“A big advantage with shopping in the town is that we do have all the smaller shops alongside the big retailers - that is why people like coming here. It is a unique mix”

There are, however, a number of empty shops along the lane and there are those who are critical of the increasing number of charity shops that have sprung up in Colchester in recent years.

But even the High Street boasts one of the area's biggest independent shops - William and Griffin - along with other traders such as Red Lion Books.

Lorraine Barnett, sales and marketing director for William and Griffin, said the focus on customer service and supply of individual items had proved a winning formula.

She said: “I had a customer stop me and say 'thank you' because she did not have to travel to London to get the brands she wanted.

“It is true to say we have customers that come in everyday, have breakfast here and go into the shop - there are 30,000 regular customers and there is something of a traditional feel.”

William and Griffin is set to go head-to-head with Harrods later this year at a national awards ceremony to find the best department store in the country - a sure sign that Colchester's flagship independent retailer is up there with the finest in the land.