Glimmer of good news from independent traders in South East

Martin Ravell of Paul Hollywood Bakers with some of his fresh breads at this year's World Food Day
Martin Ravell of Paul Hollywood Bakers with some of his fresh breads at this year's World Food Day

by Trevor Sturgess

Butchers, bakers and fishmongers are facing down the supermarket juggernauts by boosting their numbers, especially across the South East.

A new report by the Local Data Company shows that the number of independent retailers in these sectors has risen by nearly 12 per cent during the second half of last year.

Independent retailers of all types boosted their numbers by 5.6 per cent, compared with a tiny 1.2 per rise for multiples.

Matthew Hopkinson, director of The Local Data Company, said: "Butchers and bakers have benefited from the explosion of convenience stores which, despite offering cheap alcohol and a broad selection of groceries, don’t offer the kind of quality or personal touch many want from these products.

"We have also started to see a growth of specialist butchers such as halal butchers (16 per cent of all new butcher openings) as well as fishmongers and these openings have predominantly been in the Greater London and South East regions."

But many small shops are still shutting their doors, with a closure rate for 2009 of 11.5 per cent (33,495 closures out of 290,749).

Off-licences were among the hardest hit as Threshers went under, while fashion outlets also had a hard time, mirrored by a surge in charity shops. Despite blaming Oxfam for hurting the local book trade, independent booksellers climbed significantly.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, hailed the role of property landlords in supporting retail tenants during difficult times.

"So while closures are above 10 per cent, it could have been much worse," she said. "In order to maintain healthy options for new firms, high streets need to have a certain amount of empty space. But there’s no denying that our obsession with cheap supermarket deals and internet shopping is having a massive effect reshaping the look of retail."

Mike Riley, joint chief executive of Local Shopping REIT, a major landlord, said: "We are a nation of shopkeepers and time and again we see the entrepreneurial spirit of the British retailer working to overcome any economic difficulties.

"We have seen a number of sweet shops opening up to take advantage of the demise of pick-n-mix from Woolworths and similarly, following the closure of Threshers, experienced managers have taken over those units proving they can provide a better service."

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