Norwich shoppers are proud of city centre

Shoppers in Norwich are proud of the city and feel it is a vibrant place to shop, according to an Evening News survey.

Our reporters took to the streets of Norwich and nearby market towns to find out how they were faring in tough economic times.

Findings showed that 100pc of those questioned were proud of the city centre and that only a fifth of shopkeepers said that trade had decreased over the last 18 months.

But even though 90pc said they bought their non-food items from the high street, the same percentage also said they did their grocery shopping at one of the major supermarket chains.

The figures come as members of the public are being encouraged to buy at least one item from one of their independent shops today, in what has been dubbed Independents' Day 2011.

Traders hope a strong show of support might help 'break the habit' for some people who regularly shop at supermarkets and out-of-town destinations rather than their local shops.

Dikea Korankianitis, owner of Norwich-based independent boutique DKA, will give away a free scarf for every clothing purchase as part of Independents' Day, a play on words of the American holiday which is also today.

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She said: 'I believe people who run independent shops have a true passion and love for what they do and it is these shops which make high streets sparkle and stand out.

'This shop means everything to me and nothing makes me happier than people leaving my shop happy that they have purchased what they want.'

Debra Knowles (pictured below), from Soho Hip in the Norwich Lanes, said: 'Although there are a lot of national chain stores in Norwich, that works in our favour as it boosts our popularity with people who truly want to find something special and unique with top class customer service and value for money.'

For the last couple of years, Norwich has been firmly placed in the top 10 of shopping destinations.

Its appeal has been put down to the city's diverse offering in a compact space with the Norwich Lanes and its mix of quirky and quality independent shops, the market and then the two shopping centres as well as the usual high street favourites in St Stephen's Street and Gentleman's Walk.

The picture is not so rosy for all high streets, however, and the government recently drafted in Mary Portas, TV's 'Queen of Shops', to conduct a review and come up with ideas to bring variety to so-called 'clone towns' and to reinvigorate town centres that are blighted by empty shops.

Prime minister David Cameron said high streets should be the 'very heart of every community' and Ms Portas's 'no-nonsense approach' could help reverse the trend towards out-of-town and online shopping which has left one in seven high street shops standing empty.

Norfolk experts believe that one of the problems is the issue of 'convenience' when it comes to shopping at the supermarket and large chain stores rather than the local shops.

Professor Paul Dobson, head of Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia, said: 'If you offer something different then it works.

'Near where I live, Acle has got two butchers in the village because they are doing something which serves the community. Better value is often offered by the markets and fresh vegetables.

'It's about breaking the habit and once you break the habit of going to the supermarket because it's convenient then you can get into the habit of using the local shops and market.

'With markets and small shops, once they have gone they are not going to come back so use them or lose them.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norwich and Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, added: 'People are just spending less.

'People are nervous about the future and therefore are spending less than they used to, they are being more cautious.

'Lack of confidence hits the retailers first.

'People are also not moving house as much. Moving house generates extra spending as people buy sofas, curtains, but people are not moving as house as much and first time buyers are struggling to get on the property ladder so people are not spending as much – instead they make do rather than buy new.'