Shop owners on Bury St Edmunds street The Traverse are backing our Love Local campaign
In the latest of our Love Local series of features celebrating shopping in Bury St Edmunds, William Mata speaks to owners of three shops on The Traverse.
"It is right in the heart of town and it is the street with one of the longest histories in Bury.”
Sheila Banard is talking about The Traverse. It is a parade of shops where you will find Auntie Pam’s – the sweet shop she co-owns that perfectly fits its quaint surroundings.
Sheila considers the half dozen retailers to have a combined 200 years of history. Croasdales Chemist opened before the Second World War, while men’s boutique Gerald Boughton has a 50-year history in Bury, 47 of which have been in The Traverse.
And it is not just the history. The Traverse also boasts Britain’s smallest pub in The Nutshell and Sakura, Bury’s only Japanese restaurant.
Mr Shoes is a relative newcomer with 30 years in the street. Jason Gardner, its manager, said: “The Traverse is an institution. People can sometimes come and say their families have shopped there. Businesses are well-established and the majority of customers are coming back. There is an openness to it and a nice view from the top.”
But despite The Traverse’s physical and historic standing in Bury, its retailers are feeling forgotten about.
The owner of The Bodhi Tree has noticed a decline in footfall.
“We are surprised when people say that. Customers can come in from abroad, and take pictures outside. But it is out of the way, somehow, for people in Bury.”
Andrea talks about the community and rapport between the shop keepers on The Traverse, which she feels rubs off on the regular customers.
But while there is always a friendly atmosphere, the parade has been set-back by a major fire in 2012 and hurt by the market now finishing at the edge of Cornhill.
Managers have been battling to get customers back.
“We have tried lots of things,” Jason said. “People have mentioned about bunting and signage.
“It is about getting people into that part of town
Sheila added: “We just want people to come into town, if the town is thriving then we are too.”
This summer the Our Bury St Edmunds group, which manages the local business improvement district, has organised additional Sunday markets which ‘have helped’.
“It is about going the extra mile. If somebody wants a product I will do my best to get it for them. It’s the nice part of the job.”
Traverse retailers are unashamedly old fashioned in their customer service values to their price tagging. But they are aware times are changing and are making efforts to adopt to the internet in their own way.
Jason said: “We do sell online, sometimes to other countries, and do a mixture of both. Finding shoes is something that is personal and is unique, so it is better in person.”
One challenge the three have found is customers trying on shoes, or even sweets, and then going to buy the exact same product for cheaper online - sometimes unashamedly admitting to it.
“You have to negotiate,” Sheila said. “Sometimes you can do a deal.”
Jason adds: “We will go out of our way to help customers. We will always try and get a product for a customer. Our warehouse is in Thetford so we can easily get things in, sometimes it just means I have to make a detour on the way to work.
“If the customer has been given excellent service you would like to think they will remain loyal and will come back another time.”
Andrea said: “It is about going the extra mile. If somebody wants a product I will do my best to get it for them. It’s the nice part of the job.”
“As well as being independent, it’s local for people and the family. I am patriotic and I push British and Suffolk brands
Sheila said: “It is making sure we have the traditional sweets in stock. Some of the traditional makers are more than 150 years old. And we always have special offers - that’s one thing that will always be a draw for customers!”