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Opinion: Why Bury St Edmunds' independents are to be celebrated



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The other Saturday I popped into the Bohemia Vintage and Lifestyle shop in High Baxter Street, Bury St Edmunds, for a quick look around. More than 20 minutes later, I left vowing to return, at least another six times.

The boutique store was launched by Amanda Sherring and Helen Copeland, in October 2021, and is absolutely packed with fascinating and rare items from clothes to pots, pictures, and all kinds of curiosities.

I decided it would take at least another six visits to actually discover everything inside, and then there would still be things tucked away you’d miss.

Independents' Week in Bury St Edmunds, 2022. Picture Mecha Morton
Independents' Week in Bury St Edmunds, 2022. Picture Mecha Morton

And it appears I am not alone in this thought, not just for this particular treasure trove of items, but also for the town as a whole.

According to Our Bury St Edmunds business support and marketing officer Mike Kirkham, studies have shown that one of the key draws of Bury, and especially for younger shoppers, is its unique mix of independents, which keep them coming back to looking for ‘something different’, quirky, or indeed, unique. And it’s not just shops.

There are almost 300 independent business in the town, making up some 60 per cent of trade. There is, in fact, an independent shop on every street. These range from clothes shops, to restaurants, health and wellbeing practices and estate agents. Bury currently has 20 per cent more independents than other towns its size across the UK.

Amanda Sherring at Bohemia Vintage and Lifestyle shop, is just one of 300 independents in the town. Picture by Mecha Morton
Amanda Sherring at Bohemia Vintage and Lifestyle shop, is just one of 300 independents in the town. Picture by Mecha Morton

As a market town, of course, it also boasts some 80 independent stallholders to add the the mix, many of whom who have gone on to start shops themselves. Our oldest independents date back centuries, think: Thurlow Champness (established 1745), Sneezums (1874), Copeland Interiors (1881) and Denny Bros Supplies Ltd (1945).

This past week. Our Bury St Edmunds has been running Independents' Week. It’s the 12th time the business support organisation has organised the celebration, which this year was supported by an Abraham Lincoln lookalike, as the launch, on July 4, coincided with American Independence Day.

Independents’ Week is a‘shout out’ to all those independent business which add a richness and variety to the town – and of course bring in shoppers and visitors. It encourages local people to shop local – and highlight their favourites on the organisation's social media pages, to win a prize.

Research shows that when we spend money with a local independent business far more of each pound spent stays within the local economy. Typically, it’s over a third.

The town also hosts around 80 independent stallholders at its twice weekly markets. Picture: West Suffolk Council
The town also hosts around 80 independent stallholders at its twice weekly markets. Picture: West Suffolk Council

As local people themselves, independents often have greater insight into what local people want, and go that extra mile to provide that personal touch. As a result of Covid, many are also, more than ever, geared up to provide additional service through delivery and click and collect.

The hard work that goes into even the smallest shop or restaurant, that makes Bury so unique really is to be applauded – but shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Bury Free Press Editor, Barry Peters, adds:

Whenever I talk fondly of why someone should visit Buy, the lure of the idiosyncratic independent shops is one of the main reasons I always go to. Independents are what make the town special, they give it its unique flavour and they offer shoppers something different to the identikit high streets you can find elsewhere across the length and breadth of the UK.

Covid was tough for these traders and businesses, make no mistake. Of course, it was for all retail outlets, but the pressure of lockdowns and a curb on drop-in shoppers takes a huge toll when it’s just you and a shop against the world.

So consider your buying choices now more than ever - an independent trader will always be delighted to welcome you and, in turn, you’ll be keeping our town as vibrant as ever.