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SJ Fruits told to stop trading from Sandgate's Golden Valley car park

A business owner has told of his disappointment after the council axed his new - and very popular - venture in Folkestone.

Stephen Moore, who runs SJ Fruits with his wife Thereza, set up a fruit and vegetable stall in the Golden Valley car park in Sandgate on Saturdays at the beginning of lockdown.

Customers queue at SJ Fruits before it was closed down

Week after week he says he sold out of produce, with customers queuing 30 deep from as early as 8am.

But now, Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) has ordered the company to stop trading, saying the stall was set up without permission.

Mr Moore said: "I am disappointed and so was the whole community.

"We were supplying to the people who really needed it. It was good quality, good value and people loved it. It was a businesses yes, but we were helping the community.

"We had older people who told us the only time they left the house was to come and see us.

The fruit and veg stall run by Stephen Moore in the Golden Valley car park has now been closed
The fruit and veg stall run by Stephen Moore in the Golden Valley car park has now been closed

"On our last day of trading three weeks ago we had a queue 30 deep at 8am. And that is when all shops had re-opened. It shows how popular we were.

"It was also bringing in massive revenue for the other shops down there. We've been told that since we left, the other shops have lost income."

Mr Moore says he called FHDC at the beginning of lockdown to get permission to trade in the council-owned car park, off Digby Road, and that an officer told him it was OK.

It is understood two complaints have since been made to the authority and he was then told to leave.

Mr Moore, from Maxton, near Dover, said: "Two shops complained to the council. They said it was because of parking issues.

Customers have been left 'gutted' following the closure of the stall
Customers have been left 'gutted' following the closure of the stall

"But firstly, most of that car park is taken up by people who work at Saga, and not by people who are spending money at the shops anyway.

"And secondly, how can all the extra people visiting us not be good for business for them too?

"Other shops were saying us being there was the best thing to happen to the place."

Mr Moore, a dad of three, says he offered to pay FHDC £5,000 a year to continue trading in the lot, but the offer was turned down.

He adds: "I'm the third generation of my family to supply fruit and vegetable in Folkestone. My grandad and dad had shops and sold at markets. I understand what people want, what is good quality and the value of it."

Mr Moore said people would queue for his produce
Mr Moore said people would queue for his produce

Customers have since spoke of their sadness that the SJ Fruit stall has left Sandgate.

One said on Facebook: "This makes me so sad that you won’t be at the GV anymore. It has been an absolute pleasure shopping with you and something we have looked forward to every Saturday morning.

"I really hope you find another site so that we can continue to give you our custom, enjoy your excellent produce and see your warm and friendly staff again."

Another said: "Another thank you from the Golden Valley, Folkestone. You have all been amazing and work so hard.

"We are all gutted this couldn’t be made to work any longer. Hopefully the powers that be will think this through and we will see you again."

A wide range of products were on offer
A wide range of products were on offer

A third customer said: "I would personally like to thank you for opening a stall in the Golden Valley. It has helped me to get through the weekend because your family and customers have always been friendly."

SJ Fruits also trades from 7am-1pm on Thursdays at Paddock Wood and in Tenterden on Fridays.

A FHDC spokesman said: "We are always keen to support small, local businesses.

"Unfortunately this trader had set up in our car park without getting permission first - anyone trading from the highway must first obtain street trading consent and check which areas they can operate from.

"Public safety is our priority. Traders have to be licensed so we can ensure they have everything in place including food hygiene checks and public liability insurance.

"We have suggested some alternative locations, but the company has opted to take a break after what had been a very busy period for them.

"Should they approach us in the future for consent, we will be happy to consider any proposal."

Earlier this year, FHDC also halted Folkestone street market, based in Sandgate Road, over social distancing fears, but it has since re-opened.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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