Market stalls anger Sheringham traders

A continental market held at Sheringham proved a hit with shoppers, but was given the thumbs down by many of the town's traders who said it hit their business hard.

Shops said their trade was cut by as much as half on Friday and Saturday, because the streets were blocked and the stalls were selling similar goods to themselves.

But organisers said the market was part of an initiative to bring in more trade ahead of the opening of a Tesco store, which opponents fear could hit the town's vitality.

And traders were urged to think about the bigger picture of the town's fortunes rather than just their own.

The two-day market also visited North Walsham on Sunday when it was welcomed into a quiet town centre, and helped to boost Christmas lights funds.

At Sheringham it was organised by the Upcher Community Partnership, as part of a year-long plan to encourage new and existing shoppers to use the town.

The stalls ran from the top of High Street to the corner of Wyndham Street with goods on offer ranging from crepes and paella, to German sausages, Turkish delight and French bread and cheese.

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But, while stallholders enjoyed a brisk trade, a number of local shopkeepers said their takings were down as much as 50 per cent.

Sue Bright of Bright's fishing tackle shop in Wyndham Street claimed she was not informed the road would be closed on both days.

'I didn't even know the market was going to happen, and it has stopped my customers getting to me. My takings were easily down by half on a usual Friday and Saturday,' she said. 'I don't think it is fair that they were blocking the town off and I would have been much happier if it had been on the market place.'

John Hart, who runs The Sheepshed shoe repair and key cutting shop also in Wyndham Street, agreed. 'I have no objection to a continental market, but I am totally against closing the street when it isn't publicised,' he said.

'It has made a big difference to my trade. It has absolutely slaughtered me. If people can't come in their car, they won't come at all.'

High Street traders said they were sent a letter informing them of the market, and of the road closure, but many were unhappy that stallholders were selling goods already on offer in the town, and that the public's view of their shops was blocked by stalls.

Mervyn Thomas, of the Craft Bakery, said the market should have be held on the outskirts of the town, while another High Street trader, who did not want to be named, said it should have been on either the Station Road or seafront car park.

'It is ridiculous,' she said. 'As soon as the road is closed we lose 50 parking spaces every 45 minutes and, although I don't have a problem with the road being closed during the carnival - or with the stallholders, who are really nice people - my trade is down 40 per cent because my regular customers can't get to me.'

Upcher partnership manager Janet Farrow said the market was part of a 12-month town plan put together in conjunction with the town council, the Chamber of Trade and North Norfolk Business Forum.

The scheme aimed to combat the possible negative impact on town centre trade by the impending Tesco supermarket by increasing footfall and attracting new shoppers.

A survey has been sent out to shopkeepers, with residents also asked to complete questionnaires asking what they like about Sheringham and what they think could be improved.

'We have had a lot of feedback from residents and visitors about the market and most people felt it gave Sheringham the edge to provide something a bit different,' Mrs Farrow said.

'However, I do appreciate how traders feel and I understand their concerns, but, with the current economic situation, we have a difficult 12 months ahead. I think we have to up our game. If we just keep trading as we are, then people will really feel the pinch when Tesco comes.'

Mrs Farrow added that after the town hosted an international market during the annual Christmas lights switch on two years ago, she received a great deal of positive feedback from the public, with stallholders also keen to pay a return visit.

She urged local traders and residents to take part in the town survey by collecting a form from the Upcher Partnership shop in Station Road.

'What we want to do is present the results to the Chamber of Trade to let them know how people see the town and how they see the way forward, but, at the end of the day, I think our traders have got to stop seeing themselves as individual businesses and start trading as a town.'

French stallholder Patey Paul, who sells soaps and tablecloths hoped to return to Sheringham next year.

'The organisation has been perfect,' he said. 'We have had no problems at all and, if everyone is happy, we would like to come back,' he said.