Norwich retailers’ verdict on the report and how we can encourage growth
Independent retailers and larger high street stores in Norwich are largely backing the recommendations set out in the Mary Portas report – if the proposals are acted upon on a national level.
As one of the top 10 shopping destinations in the country, Norwich already meets some of the points set out in the report, with a mix of independent and high street shops. But retailers warn that without an emphasis on business rate cuts, smaller businesses will not survive.
Stefan Gurney, Norwich City Centre Partnership manager, believes Norwich has already got a city centre model in place that could inspire other cities: 'Norwich city centre is different to the norm. Along with the variety of independent and mainstream shops on the high street, Norwich also has the City Centre Partnership which is similar to the 'Town Team' Mary Portas recommends cities set up to bridge the gap between large and small businesses.
'The Retail Skills Academy at City College Norwich and the college's new enterprise scheme also bridges the gap between retail and education, and Norwich has a market that is open six days a week. Therefore, many of the recommendations in the report are already in place. What we need to do now is move forward by working with national government on issues such as reviewing business rates and high street deregulation to try to reduce red tape.'
Norwich city centre has seen many changes in the past few years. This year alone has seen big brands such as Jack Wills and Joules opening outlets, Marks & Spencer and John Lewis spending millions of pounds on major improvements, and independent shops such as Belly Button Designs in St Gregory's Alley opening up and some independent retailers such as Imelda's shoe boutique in Guildhall Hill expanding.
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Chairman of Norwich Lanes, Roger Pemberton, is pleased retailers have the opportunity to work together to support the future of Norwich City Centre. 'Norwich has two Malls, Norwich Lanes, The Royal Arcade, Norwich Market and the Cathedral quarter and, as a result, we can offer a wide-ranging shopping and entertainment experience,' says Mr Pemberton, above.
'What we need to do now is to encourage all Norwich shoppers to embrace not only the high street and the malls but the variety of our independent businesses in Norwich Lanes so that we can keep the area viable in the long term.'
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But for some independent retailers the report has come too late. Debra Knowles who has owned Soho Hip in Pottergate for more than six years is moving to London in the New Year.
Says Ms Knowles: 'Norwich is lucky to have an independent quarter of shops like Norwich Lanes, but if shoppers do not buy from these shops they will quickly disappear.
'I have loved being in Norwich, but the lack of footfall this year combined with the economic climate has forced me to leave. One of the main things killing independents is the main chains having sales so early on in the season. It used to be that we had the January sales, but now high street stores are slashing prices long before Christmas and independent retailers just cannot compete. More communication and support between the large stores and independent shops would greatly revitalise the city centre,' added Ms Knowles.
Lisa Angel is one independent retailer who is bridging the gap between the mainstream and independent retailers. Her jewellery and gift shop has recently opened a shop in Norwich Lanes, and she also has a stall in Chapelfield shopping centre and a temporary Christmas stall in The Mall.
'We have had the support of larger retailer Chapelfield for the last three years,' says Ms Angel. 'We love the fact that our mini-store is inside Chapelfield alongside the bigger chains. Customers appreciate that we offer something different and support us because we are local.
'We have been looking to open a shop for a while and our first thought was to open a shop in Chapelfield. Unfortunately the unit sizes available at the time were too big and so we decided to open in Norwich Lanes.
'It's because of our success in Chapelfield that enabled us to open our new shop on Lower Goat Lane.'