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‘Extremely hit and miss’ - Town centre businesses struggling but surviving

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 July 2020

Steve Cook from Branded Toys on Regent Road said that trade was picking up thanks to the holiday makers and school holidays. Photo: Sarah Burgess

Steve Cook from Branded Toys on Regent Road said that trade was picking up thanks to the holiday makers and school holidays. Photo: Sarah Burgess

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We’re struggling but surviving - that is the message from Great Yarmouth’s traders as they adapt to the demands of the new normal.

Regent Road looked fairly busy today as customers headed out shopping in the warm weather. Photo: Sarah BurgessRegent Road looked fairly busy today as customers headed out shopping in the warm weather. Photo: Sarah Burgess

For many shops, the arrival of tourists and start of the summer holidays has given trade a welcome boost.

But for others, location, staffing issues and reduced demand means footfall is still way down.

Steve Cook, who owns Branded Toys on Regent Road, said that while custom was picking up, the past three weeks have been “completely dead”.

He said: “This is the first week we’ve been steady since reopening. That’s down to the holiday makers - and the kids breaking up for summer.

“Since the rules on face coverings came into play, we’ve decided to offer people masks if they forget theirs. I’d rather that than we lose the sale altogether because we have to turn customers away.”

Ramona Balcan from the Grasshopper on King Street said that the business was surviving but footfall remains low. Photo: Sarah BurgessRamona Balcan from the Grasshopper on King Street said that the business was surviving but footfall remains low. Photo: Sarah Burgess

And while to some Regent Road might look busy from afar, Mr Cook said it was a case of “perspective”.

He said: “When you stand at the top it looks rammed. In fact, it seems busy wherever you look from a distance. But once you start walking down it, you won’t see many people around you. It’s a bit misleading.”

On King Street, meanwhile, things were noticeably more quiet.

At the Grasshopper health store, shop worker Ramona Balcan said the business was surviving, but struggling.

Daryl Peterson from CeX said that trade was steady, but that things were extremely hit and miss. The brown paper bags contain disposable masks for those who have forgotten theirs and want to enter the store. Photo: Sarah BurgessDaryl Peterson from CeX said that trade was steady, but that things were extremely hit and miss. The brown paper bags contain disposable masks for those who have forgotten theirs and want to enter the store. Photo: Sarah Burgess

She said: “We opened a month ago and admittedly it is very slow.

“I’m not sure people have the money to get all the little things they used to.”

She added: “We were concerned that making masks compulsory might affect things even more, but it hasn’t.

“We have signage on the door, and when people come in without a face covering I remind them that they would be liable for a fine if they choose not to wear one, not me.

Norman Nisbit from Norman's Antiques on Market Row said that selling facemasks was now the only way of keeping the business alive. Photo: Sarah BurgessNorman Nisbit from Norman's Antiques on Market Row said that selling facemasks was now the only way of keeping the business alive. Photo: Sarah Burgess

“After that, they usually comply. I’ve realised most people have one in their pocket and though they maybe hedge their bets initially, they are polite and understanding when I ask them to cover their face. It protects me as well as them.”

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Just down the road at CeX exchange store, staff member Daryl Peterson was standing outside in an effort to control the flow of customers and provide people with a mask if they didn’t have one.

But he said each day was “extremely hit and miss”.

Market Row traders said that the barriers at the top of the row for the Santander queue were confusing for people, and were discouraging trade down the row itself. Photo: Sarah BurgessMarket Row traders said that the barriers at the top of the row for the Santander queue were confusing for people, and were discouraging trade down the row itself. Photo: Sarah Burgess

“On the first day we reopened, we had queues down to Phones 4u, but then on other days it’s really empty”, he said.

“The lockdown didn’t affect us too much as we have online sales.

“And actually, because we are an exchange service, lately we’ve seen an increase in trade given that people have more things they want to sell to us because they need the money.”

Down Market Row, however, it was a different story.

Norman Nisbit, who owns Norman’s Antiques and Tilly’s Alterations with his wife, said people were forgetting about shops in the street.

He said: “The barriers at the top for the Santander queue at the Market Place make it look like the row is closed and are confusing for people.

“Market Row as a place to shop was badly advertised before coronavirus, and this has just made things worse.

“But my wife is making masks for people, and that’s keeping us alive. It doesn’t cost much to get the fabric but then we can sell them on for £5. That’s our main trade at the moment - not the antiques.”

For Penie Judson, who works at Unique Crafts alongside owner Jane Littlewood, this summer’s takings will “be nothing” compared to usual.

Ms Judson said: “We’ve cut our hours back from 10am to 2pm because there’s not a soul walking down this row after then, and it seems pointless being open.

“Besides, Jane is shielding and will be until August 1, so staffing issues have made things difficult for us.

“People are being fabulous about the masks, but barriers at the top of the row make it look inaccessible.

“I really hope we will survive this, but it’s such a shame that so many others haven’t.”


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