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Revisiting the state of Ipswich's independents
By Richard Haugh
BBC Suffolk

Maneki Neko in Go East, Ipswich, window
Can a Maneki Neko in Go East's window bring good fortune?

At the end of January 2009, BBC Suffolk visited five independent businesses in Ipswich to find out their experience of the recession.

Revisiting a year later we found some success stories, but two of the retail units we'd visited were now vacant.

Ipswich Borough Council has sent a message of hope, admitting it had been a tough year for the town's businesses.

"Ipswich has a lot to offer," said press officer Max Stocker. "We hope the next 18 months will be more fruitful."

There are now three vacant retail units where the old Martin & Newby hardware store was, on the corner of Fore Street and Eagle Street.

The bold lettering for the 'general ironmongers, electricians, and tool merchants', which was established in 1873 and closed 131 years later, remains in place and is a striking legacy to an independent which succumbed to a changing market.

It's unlikely that Fransisca Montgomerie's jointly owned Go East, an oriental grocery store, will have the longevity of Martin & Newby's, not in Fore Street anyway.

Martin & Newby sign, Ipswich
Martin & Newby's history is in stark contrast to the shops below its signage

"We are thinking we're probably going to move," said Fransisca. "The rent is quite expensive.

"We have an empty shop on the left, an empty shop on the right, an empty shop across the road. I do feel quite lonely!"

Fransisca does believe, however, that her shop's products are in demand and would therefore look to move to a vacant premise nearby, rather than leave Ipswich.

"The shop next door has been empty for more than six months. If they don't put down the rent and business rates I don't think people will move to this area."

The premises occupied by MILSAM and Cat Black, who we visited last year and are either side of Go East, are now vacant.

Reduced rates

Like Fransisca, business rates are an ongoing concern for Chris Mortimer, shop manager at Out of Time Records opposite Fore Street swimming baths.

Chris, who admits to it being a testing 12 months, says their business rates were halved five years ago as part of a national incentive.

"We get a reduction because we're a small business but it could be ending this year," said Chris.

And if the rates do go up? "We'll just have to find the money."

Amongst the five businesses we visited in 2009, there are two other success stories.

Arlingtons, the restaurant and cafe in the former Ipswich Museum building on Museum Street, lived up to its aim of providing a successful alternative to the coffee chains.

"It's very, very good," said bar manager Morgan Decker. "We're thriving for want of a better word. I don't like to be bullish but we've been building steadily.

"The only thing that effected us was the weather - which really didn't help."

Likewise, Mark Brown and his old fashioned sweet shop on Upper Brook Street came through the downturn unscathed.

"It's been pretty much as expected," he said. "I don't think the recession hit us as bad as it had some other companies.

"It's a feel good type of industry we're in. People of all ages love sweets."

Support for independents

Max Stocker says Ipswich Borough Council is looking at ways to work with independent businesses.

Products in Go East, Ipswich
Fransisca is confident Go East's products will remain in demand

An annual conference will be held in February where business rates, which he points out aren't to do with the council but are set by the Inland Revenue, and initiatives to attract new businesses will be on the agenda.

Ipswich Central, meanwhile, is also offering hope to independent businesses in the town.

Paul Clement is the executive director of the group which is funded by businesses and aims to support these by offering additional services to those provided by the local authorities.

Paul says that small, independent retailers are exempt from paying for Ipswich Central's services.

"Small, owner-driven businesses are crucial to the future of the town," he said.

"We don't want to take money from their till but we do want them to succeed.

"We also give away £20,000 worth of grants to independent businesses, and this can be spent as they wish - new signage, websites, new shop fronts, external seating - as long as it's taking their business forward."

State of independents: part one (2009)




SEE ALSO
Oldest shop shuts after 131 years
03 Jul 04 |  Suffolk

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