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Home Ashford News Article
Pauline Longman has been setting up her stall in the Ashford shopping centre every six weeks for the past 18 months but was told just after Christmas she would only be able to participate in one-off themed events such as wedding fairs.
Then last week, when she was in Virginia, America, picking up supplies for the centre’s forthcoming Mother’s Day event, Mrs Longman received a phone call to say she was not welcome at County Square at all following a complaint from a business owner in the centre about the competition.
The 59-year-old businesswoman said: “I’m very disappointed. I can’t see how one person has the power to dictate who trades. You don’t see Next and Debenhams complaining about each other.
“There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition.
“I’m also angry because I don’t want to disappoint my customers.”
As well as tasty treats for the average confectionery lover, Mrs Longman also sources vegan-friendly sweets, such as American M&M’s, and is hoping to soon sell sugar-free candy for her diabetic customers.
South Willesborough mum Dannie Hardisty was outraged when she heard Mrs Longman had been banned from the shopping centre and immediately started a Facebook group – which has more than 160 members.
The 38-year-old said: “It’s ridiculous, Pauline is absolutely gutted. She was always really busy when she came here.
“If she didn’t have something in stock she’d get it for you. There are other places that sell similar American sweets but they are far more expensive.
“You would think County Square would prefer the trade in their centre, what with the vacant premises they have.”
Another fan, Daniel Hill, created an online petition to gather support for the sweet stall.
Mrs Longman has run the Wonderland shop in Ramsgate, which specialises in American sweets, chocolate bars, fizzy drinks and other sugary treats, for 13 years.
She takes her business to venues across the county, including Whitstable Harbour Village and The Forum shopping centre in Sittingbourne.
She added: “It’s lovely to have such support. The response to the Facebook page was crazy. I don’t know how far it’s going to get us but I have such a good customer base in Ashford.”
County Square centre manager Frances Burt confirmed Mrs Longman had been told not to return after a business based in the centre complained about American candy stalls affecting its trade.
She said: “We have a duty to look after our permanent tenants in the centre, who pay more rent, rates and service charges than the stalls. If something is conflicting with one of our tenants we have to make a judgement.
“This is not a situation unique to County Square, it happens in other shopping centres.”
The business believed to have made the complaint was closed when the Kentish Express tried to contact it for a comment.
The Facebook group is called Allowing Wonderland Ramsgate to trade at County Square
Sign the petition here.
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