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Bright future for Sussex independent stores
As major stores collapse on high streets across the country, village shops are struggling to compete against the might of the supermarkets and the Internet. Yet independent traders in some of Sussex’s villages are tapping in to the community spirit to keep their head above water. Emily Walker reports.
The influence of cut-price supermarkets has seen some rural Sussex residents lose their local convenience stores.
In Denton, villagers were sad to see their local shop close as a result of the pressures of the big multinational chains.
Owner Muralee Sherani told The Argus: “We just couldn’t compete with the big supermarkets so we closed last Saturday. It is very difficult for independent businesses to keep going.”
With several big supermarkets in nearby Newhaven, the village shops are struggling to survive.
Just a mile away the Post Office in South Heighton has been converted into a house after the convenience store suffered a drop in trade.
In 2000 there were 30,000 small shops in the UK, by 2006 there were just 20,000.
But some resilient local traders are capturing the heart of their communities to tailor their stores to offer exactly what their customers need – and thriving in the process.
At Findon News, owner Dave Stewart credits the previous owners with setting up a well-loved asset for local residents.
He said: “If a Tesco Express opened up around the corner, I would be worried.
“But I would like to think our customers would stay loyal.
“This is a Post Office as well as a news agent and convenience store. We cater for everything.
“A lot of people are terrified of losing us, so I think they would stick with us.
“This is a very small community and it is pretty remote. So a lot of people live out of the shop.
“We help people carry their bags and shopping trolleys, and we cater to what they need. If someone wants something special we’ll get it in for them.”
In Blackboys, the village shop is now also a community centre and café, as well as a place to buy fresh bread and local produce.
Three-and-a-half years ago, the local shop closed. Just last year the butchers also got the chop. But two families have joined forces to provide a friendly space catering for the local community.
Andrew and Emma Doherty and Sarah and Andrew Wright last week opened The Grove, a converted farm building on the B2102 selling bread baked in Cross In Hand, meat farmed in Framfield and milk from a Ringmer dairy.
Set up thanks to a grant from the Wealden and Rother Rural Partnership, the two couples set up a café and have provided a space for community groups to meet.
In the future they also hope to run holiday workshops for children, lunches for older members of the community and allow local groups to use The Grove as a meeting hub.
Mrs Doherty said: “We had an open day in November to show our plans and 250 people turned up. We’ve had some great feedback.”
Mr Doherty added: “Losing the village shop and butchers made a massive difference to the village. It’s good to give something back.”
Offering quality local produce is one way that village shops can capture the market.
Robert Reece and his wife Ami have run Firle stores since 1985. He said that, as well as supplying the village’s residents, customers travelled from Lewes and further afield for his wares.
He said: “A lot of people come from outside the village to get our cold meats.
“People hear about us and come here for the kind of quality products they can’t get in the supermarkets.
“With a few exceptions, that kind of quality is something they don’t expect to find in the supermarkets.
“People also say our vegetables, especially our tomatoes, taste much better than what the supermarkets sell.
“In the summer, with Firle Park around the corner and a lot of people camping in the area, we get people coming back year after year.”
For Mr Reece’s local customers, he offers a higher level of service and more personal touches than his larger rivals.
“We know our customers and they know us,” he said.
“We have a really good relationship. They know that if there’s something they want I’ll stock it for them.”
Independents’ share of market shrinks to just 6%
In the past 15 years, small independent shops’ share of the UK grocery market has fallen to just 6%.
Meanwhile large multinationals’ share has increased to 88%.
A report from Manchester Metropolitan University suggests that at the current rate of demise, there will be no independent retailers left by 2050, and a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group predicts that many will have ceased trading by 2015.
A report by the Competition Commission found that the loss of local independent shops can have serious impacts in terms of access to food, particularly for people on lower incomes or those who do not have the use of a car.
The four main supermarket chains run more than 100 stores across Sussex.
Tesco has 53 stores in Sussex. Morrisons has 50, Sainsbury’s has 26 and Asda 15.
Tesco wants to convert a former restaurant in Horsham into a convenience store. It has written to potential neighbours in Brighton Road outlining its plans for the site, which was once the St Leonard’s Arms.
Tesco hopes to submit plans soon to Horsham District Council to make small amendments to the building, including adding a cashpoint, to open a Tesco Express store in summer 2013.
Residents are concerned about the extra traffic that will result and the trade existing shops will lose.
Tesco Express are also trying to open up in the former Oddfellows Arms Pub in Ore Village.
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