Sorry about this but...
In the current economic climate, you'd think that it would be the responsibility of local councils and of local organisations such as chambers of trade to think incredibly seriously about how its actions affect local trade. Over the past couple of years events within our town centre have seemed to be a popular route that the chamber of trade in particular seem to have chosen in a bid to improve the town's trade. Their thinking is that if you bring thousands of extra people into the town, they will automatically spend money in it. Put a funfair in the market place and families will pour into the local shops and spend extra dosh...have a living nativity in the town, and after singing a song or two, the choir will quickly make its way through every establishment in town, spending as it goes. Even better still, close the whole town off, bring traffic to a standstill, make parking almost impossible, bring a few stalls in under the banner of 'French Market', shut our streets and hey presto...all the happy shoppers that visit it will be the making of Leek's Christmas 2010, oh and don't forget to be grateful shop keepers, we've brought the extra footfall in, it's your responsibility to get them spending.
And so, we've just witnessed our worst Friday's trade ever since we took over The Wine Shop in Leek in 2002. Russell Street is closed to traffic because traders in Sheep Market and Stanley Street wanted the market...NIMBY but in busy thoroughfare Derby Street...necessitating the closure of Russell Street... are there are no important traders down there....?
This was Russell Street just after 12 noon today. Usually cars would line the street. People stopping for 15 minutes to run to the bank, or go to the butchers, stopping for a quick lunch or to visit our independent shops. Russell Street is about the only place the shopper can do this in the town centre. Close Russell Street and we lose our trade..no one is able to carry a case of wine through the streets of Leek to their far away car. This event is over 3 days so a closed street is what we are having to put up with on Friday 19th Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st November.
I thought I'd better have a look at the market and hoped that, given our sacrifice of trade in this incredibly tough time in retail, that at least there would be a bustle of many people in town.....it was empty and we're seriously p@ssed off about the fact that we should be grateful for the council's, and the chamber of trade's efforts to show us how business is done and improved....just leave us alone and let us do what we know how to do...let our customers get to our shops and leave us to get on with doing our business and endeavouring to survive. Christmas is the most important time for many retailers, it is when we take most of our yearly turnover. Start taking 3 days out of our Christmas trade and we're talking about the loss of thousands of pounds in turnover.
After making various enquiries, I've discovered that these stall traders, as well as obviously not paying rates, are not even required to pay rent for their pitch.
What concerns me is that most of the people who have endorsed the coming of the French market, are also the ones making terrified protests about Sainsburys building an edge of town complex that will be bringing many jobs, housing and let's face it, a much more enjoyable shopping experience than any of the supermarkets than Leek already has. Is it acceptable for a small market like this to choke our town in such an important trading period, and for the money that it does manage to take to be taken out of Leek, and further afield as far as France?
I agree with the council and the Chamber of Trade that these events do bring lots of extra people into town, but......if I'm visiting Leek to attend a Leek 800 charter event, a living nativity, a french market, a St Georges Day celebration, a Club Day, all of which involve the mandatory closure of Russell Street, then I'm visiting Leek to visit that event, why should or why would I shop in the local establishments...I can do that any time. Why not hold these events at Brough Park or California car park so that they are a success in themselves and local traders benefit because our customers are able to get to us?
The most important point of all that I would like to make in this rare Angling and Dramming rant is this....this isn't a game, we're not sitting outside the front of our house selling rose petal perfume or knackered toys, we're trying to run our businesses in the way we know how to....we do know how to run our business.....don't ask traders to be grateful for any of the work you do for the town because if events continue in this vein you will kill Leek town centre...it's not Sainsburys we should be scared of...many more occasions of closed streets in Leek will mean closed shops...for good.