Visiting continental market divides town

A continental market organised to coincide with Sheringham's Christmas lights switch-on at the weekend has divided the town in a rift mirroring the storm caused by Tesco's 10-year battle for a town store.

A continental market organised to coincide with Sheringham's Christmas lights switch-on at the weekend has divided the town in a rift mirroring the storm caused by Tesco's 10-year battle for a town store.

While some have welcomed the market as a much-needed boost to trade, others have given it the thumbs-down, calling it overpriced, disappointing, and, in a difficult economic climate, detrimental to already struggling businesses.

Organisers, however, insist it had a positive impact on the town, and have pledged to hold it again next year.

Selling goods ranging from knitwear and jewellery to bread, sweets and hot pancakes, the market, which stretched along the town's main shopping route in High Street on Saturday and Sunday, was run by Frenchman Olivier Simonin, who takes continental markets all over the UK and Europe through his Liverpool-based company.

It was hosted by Sheringham Chamber of Trade, who hoped it would generate business, bring people into Sheringham and reunite the town, which had been divided by a 10-year battle for a Tesco store.

But, while some traders felt the market had boosted sales and added to the overall atmosphere of the switch-on, others were angry that stalls selling goods already available in Sheringham were set up near their shops - and that it had been organised on the same day at the town's regular Saturday market at the Station Road car park.

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Joanne Brown of Brown's restaurant said she was "absolutely furious" to discover a hog roast setting up stall just two doors away from her Station Road premises.

"I think a continental market is a fantastic idea, but what I'm unhappy about is that they've brought food that isn't even continental. We are all struggling in this climate and we pay rates all year round, and the one day you get a chance to take some money, you end up with all this competition," she added.

Sheringham Market Traders Association chairman Bill Hartland said that although the regular Saturday market trade didn't seem to have been affected, he felt the continental market was badly-timed.

"I haven't had any negative comments from our market traders, but, from a personal point of view, I think that we spent 10 years trying to keep out Tesco, which is a good old English company, then suddenly we've got people from all over Europe coming in and taking trade away," he said. "The town is struggling and the market is struggling and, personally, I think it would be rather nice if the people who are there week in week out were looked after."

Mervyn Thomas, who owns Craft Bakery in High Street had mixed feelings about the market.

"It didn't really affect me that much as I sold out of bread by 3pm on Saturday anyway," he said. "But I did think it was pretty insulting to have a bread stall two doors away - they were selling wholemeal bread which isn't exactly continental - and, although I wouldn't say I was against the market, I felt having it right in the middle of the town was a bit unfair to other traders."

Others, however, welcomed the continental market, which, they said, had a positive impact on trade.

Jane Stubbs, who owns Creativity gift shop in High Street, said her takings on Saturday had been much better than usual.

"I can understand why food shops would object and I was a little bit disappointed because there weren't as many stalls as I'd expected, but I do think the market brought people into the town and I would like to see it again next year," she said.

Mary Stocks, who runs the All Natural Company health food shop with her husband and daughter agreed:

"I think it was a brilliant idea, but I was disappointed that the stalls didn't offer very much variety and I think a lot of customers felt it was a bit pricey to say the least. It's very difficult to say whether it made any difference to our business, but, from my point of view, it was a really good idea that didn't quite live up to expectations," she said.

Mike Crowe of Crowe's in Station Road, praised the Chamber of Trade for having the courage to try a different approach to the traditional Christmas switch-on.

"As far as business is concerned, the market made very little difference to us," he said. "But obviously it wasn't directly outside my shop and didn't sell anything I sell so it didn't have a detrimental effect. But, personally, I think it was worth trying as, even if it isn't a success on the day, it might bode well for the future."

Sheringham Chamber of Trade secretary Andy Bullen said he had been congratulated by traders, many of whom thought the market had attracted new shoppers to the town as well as boosting business and community spirit.

Stall holders had been pleased with takings and had agreed to come back next year Mr Bullen added, while some retailers said they had enjoyed one of the best Saturdays ever.

"Chamber of Trade members were told about the market months ago through our newsletter and, as far as the road closure goes, we would have closed the road for the switch-on anyway. We did try to do it with the minimum amount of disruption and had the full co-operation of the police," he said.

Chamber of trade chairman Janet Farrow said the town needed to stay on its toes and be open to new ideas in order to attract shoppers.

"At the end of the day, we have to make Sheringham a bit more proactive because what has happened with Tesco has divided the town," she said. "The idea was to encourage more people to come here and, hopefully, on the back of that, they will see what we have to offer and come back again. I honestly think that, for our first year, we did quite well - we can't afford to be complacent and we have to try other things to bring people into the town."

Mr Simonin, who has been organising continental markets for more than 5 years, said he had never before received complaints from traders.

"Everybody is usually happy because it brings people into town, the only thing I was embarrassed about was that, because of a ferry strike, a lot of traders couldn't make it so the market was quite small," he added.

Mr Bullen said that, in spite of complaints, the Chamber of Trade was planning to hold the market again during next year's switch on.

"What I would say is that any competition is good competition, and if you have choice, then that is a good thing for customers."