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Traffic system 'hits traders' as town comes under TV spotlight

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

  • call for solution: Totnes shopkeeper Matthew Lambert, of The Potting Shed Elliot Anderton

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AS Totnes has been hailed nationally as a potential model for the new high street, some shop owners are claiming roadworks are hitting trade.

The town was highlighted on national breakfast television as an example how a town with a high proportion of individual traders can weather the retail economic storm.

The vacancy rate for shops in Totnes is six per cent — less than half the national average.

However, it comes as traffic flow through the town has been reversed for three months while Wales and West Utilities renews a high pressure gas main on High Street.

Some retailers believe the no-entry signs at the bottom of town may be putting shoppers off.

Esther Young, of Fleurette the Florist, reported they had lost half their takings since the work began.

Martin Turner, owner of the Tangerine Tree Cafe, noted a drop of around 40 per cent.

However, Mike White, of Sacks Wholefoods, believes that not having cars driving through the top of the town could actually improve their business.

"It's too soon to say really, but if anything it might help because there are more people walking around."

Lisa Hosking, who runs both Aromatika and Wild Fig Deli in the town, said she believed the high proportion of independents was the reason for the town's reported success.

"Five out of six shops are independent which is a higher proportion than in most towns. I think people are attracted to the town specifically because of the nature of the independents which works really well for Totnes.

"The town is also known for its independent nature."

And Martin Turner agreed this was good for the town.

"It's a good system as it keeps money in the town," he said. "We use local suppliers and many of our customers are locals. It brings the life back into the high street as perhaps small business owners care more than the big chains."

Totnes town councillor Tony Whitty said it had been a market town for 800 years and the style of shops had developed over the centuries.

"People come for an experience, they are drawn to the town because of the nature of the shops, they can experience something which is not a clone town," he said.

Nigel Way, owner of the Royal Seven Stars hotel in Totnes and Royal Castle Hotel in Dartmouth, agrees that Totnes' success is based on it offering a 'distinctly different' shopping experience.

"Unlike Torquay, entering Totnes is not like entering clone town. Torbay needs to invest in its own community."

Totnes also hit the headlines recently after a very vocal group successfully campaigned against Costa Coffee taking a major unit in the town.

Matthew Lambert, owner of The Potting Shed, believes a solution needs to found for the empty unit.

"It's been empty for more than a year and empty shops are bad for the town," he said. "The premises have high rent so it would need a larger business to take it on."

Kristina Tinker, of the Out Of The Blue shop, shared this concern but believed Costa Coffee was not the right choice for the town.

"We don't want empty shops, but that's down to the landlord," she said.

On the partial road closure, she added: "The gas works will, of course, affect us, though probably not as much as others further up the town who are pretty much cut off.

"The signs aren't helping either. Signs reading 'no access' at the bottom of the high street are bound to put people off."

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