Food chain taking over Cromer Woolies

Expanding frozen food chain Iceland is set to ease the chill of recession in Cromer's main shopping street, by taking over the former Woolworths store.

Cromer's town centre has been given a boost by news that frozen food chain Iceland is to take over the closed Woolworths store.

The reopening later this year, which will create about 30 jobs, has been welcomed in the town - which has also seen a flurry of other shop openings as there are early signs nationwide that the worst of the recession could be over.

Iceland aim to recruit in September and open in December, with work already going ahead in the Church Street building that had stood empty and looking desolate since Woolworths collapsed nationally last Christmas.

Cromer chamber of trade president Sue Brown said: 'This will fill a big hole in the middle of Cromer.

'It was important something went in there and got rid of the dirty windows. This is something different. It may compete a little with the supermarkets, but it is also helping with employment.'

The resort has also recently seen Halfords open up in part of the former MFI store on Holt Road, while independent jewellery and chocolate shops have also sprung up in empty shops in the town centre.

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Mrs Brown said seaside resorts often did better than inland ones during a recession and Cromer retained a good mixture of national and independent traders.

Daniel Benton, who also runs Francis Jones' jewellery shop at North Walsham Market Place, has opened a new shop in a former estate agents in Hamilton Road, Cromer.

'It is a gamble opening a business in the current climate, but an opportunity arose and we took it,' added Mr Benton, who hoped the trend towards 'staycation' holidays at home would also help Cromer in the future.

Digby Eddison, who began a chocolate shop business in Holt and has been running his main shop in Norwich's arcade for 15 years, said his new Garden Street shop was also selling ice creams - but was basically an 'adult sweet shop'.

He hoped it would even out the business at Norwich which tended to peak in the winter around Christmas, Valentine's and Easter.

Both new shops reported promising trade in their first few weeks.

Iceland, which sells value frozen foods, is one of the nation's business success stories at the moment.

It took over 51 old Woolworth stores and is in the process of opening 70 new stores throughout the UK this year creating 3,500 jobs - with another 20-30 stores planned for 2010. The Cromer store will bring its tally of Norfolk stores to 11.

That is the company's fastest rate of expansion since it bought Bejam 20 years ago, and means the business started by two men - ironically Woolworths workers - in Oswestry with �60 in 1970, now17,000 staff and annual sales up 16pc to �2bn.

Pauline Begley, from the marketing department of Iceland, said the business was 'on the continual lookout' for stores in neighbourhood areas which fitted with their customer demographic.

'We are looking forward to opening Cromer in December and to being part of the local community,' she added.

'The actual date of opening is still to be confirmed but we hope to employ approximately 30 people.

'Iceland has been experiencing significant sales growth over the past four years which is driven by an increase in new customers and increased spend from existing shoppers.

'The credit crunch has accelerated that growth as customers look for better value for money.'

Iceland founder and chief executive Malcolm Walker has said more and more customers were rediscovering the benefits of frozen food - with 'no mess, no fuss and no waste' which was helping the company's strong progress in a difficult economic climate.

Back in February store owners Stalham-based Cathedral Park Properties, said they were still trying to get the Church Street building back from the administrators, but had lodged plans to partially demolish and alter the rear and potentially divide the 4,000sq ft sales area into two.

They were confident there was good demand from local and national retailers for sales space at Cromer.