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Opinion: Why it really is time to help Bury St Edmunds shopkeepers 'do the happy dance'

They have been familiar mantras for years: shop local, love local, buy local, use it or lose it.

I found a nice one while looking up others: When you buy from a small business, an actual person does a little happy dance.

Is that true?

St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds town center. Picture: Mark Westley
St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds town center. Picture: Mark Westley

Wouldn’t it be great to walk down Abbeygate Street, for instance, or St John’s Street, and see shopkeepers jigging away to the sound of cash tills ringing.

However, no matter how worn these phrases have become, never have they been more vital, for all shops, particularly independents, across the district.

Last week, Javelin decided to go ‘high-street only’ as it took sales offline.

Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.
Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.

It may seem like a bold move in this day and age but perfectly rational based on the shopkeeper’s experience.

Statistics from Our Bury St Edmunds have also shown recently that shoppers are returning to the town centre more than they did pre-pandemic, and were out en masse for the Food and Drink Festival at the weekend with organisers describing the turnout as ‘phenomenal’.

The town has also seen vacant units fill up over recent months and I would definitely say it has a positive air with people enjoying the ‘bricks and mortar’ experience.

However this is all balanced of course against hugely rising costs for all businesses, across all sectors.

It’s a catch-22 situation with, (hopefully) more shoppers returning to town, but with shopkeepers fearful of raising their prices and driving them away.

Consumers of course being hit in the pocket, too.

Most businesses are cutting costs where they can, but it’s a fine line.

It was sad to see Ixworth Butchers and Fine Foods go under this week in under a year, citing lack of support and rising energy.

It takes time to build a business and customer base, and it makes you wonder if a hike in bills and the prospect of the next few months proved the point of no return.

High Street shopping is a joy that has been lost in recent years due to the relentless growth of internet shopping.

I remember days pre-internet, when you would decide to buy something, go to town, look around, compare shop-to-shop, make your purchase, take it home, enjoy it. It was a day out.

I wonder if there has been a shift in society where people are rediscovering this, finally, and those who grew up in the internet age, are too.

Perhaps being locked up during Covid has been an influence in the enjoyment we are now finding simply having a browse around town and face-to-to face service.

For instance, I visited Vinyl Hunter's new pop-up shop on St John’s Street this week to ask about record decks.

They had a demo set playing and it really did sound amazing, as did the vinyl, itself.

I have been considering dusting off my record collection while at the same time wondering if it actually does sound better, or the desire is really just nostalgia.

The point being you wouldn’t have had that experience online.

Likewise, I was particularly inspired recently by staff from the Tackle Up fishing tackle shop, who explained that such is the community that has built up around their shop over the last 50 years, they are simply too busy to put their tackle online.