Independent shopkeepers in a Suffolk coastal town have slammed big retailers exploiting lockdown loopholes to stay open.
Business owners in Woodbridge who have stuck to the rules surrounding lockdown and closed their doors to the public, claim larger competitors are flouting the regulations which state that you can only operate if you are classed as “essential”.
Among these are major chains such as The Range, Carpetright and Ryman which sell largely non-essential goods as well as the leading supermarkets capitalising on the fact that they are able to sell non-essential goods alongside their essentials by increasing the aisle-space dedicated to toys, games, homeware and gifts.
James Lightfoot, chairman of Choose Woodbridge, the business association that represents dozens of small shops in the town, urged the government to crack down on those shops that were creating an “unfair playing field” for independents.
“Independent non-essential retailers have accepted the lockdown rules in Woodbridge,” he said.
“But it appears some of their larger competitors are bending the rules at one of the most important trading periods of the year.
“There needs to be greater clarity on trading during this second lockdown.
“It is awful to see the small local traders struggling. These are people with livelihoods and they pump investment into the local economy. They are the reason Woodbridge is such a magical place to visit.”
Jill Barrett, owners of Barretts of Woodbridge which has been operating on the Thoroughfare for more than 50 years, said she was furious that authorities had taken no action against Carpetright which continues to keep its showrooms open.
“The council either can’t, or won’t shut them down,” she said. “We are so disappointed that these large chain stores have interpreted the Government guidelines differently from the small independents.
“However, we feel strongly that there are more important issues here than profit. We need to work together to stop this dreadful disease and protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. And we are proud to do our bit.
“Hopefully when this is all over our lovely customers will return to shopping in Woodbridge.”
Joannah Reynolds had to close her brand new business Happiness at Home at Deben Wharf just one day after opening in order to comply with the government guidance.
She said: “It is truly galling that independent retailers are forced to shut while large retailers sell clothing, children’s toys, books and homeware in the guise of stocking ‘essential’ items.
“Independent retailers are acting responsibly and following government guidelines but as a result, this is not a level playing field.”
Chris Mapey, district councillor for Woodbridge for East Suffolk Council, said businesses were allowed to self-certify as essential but that trading standards were cracking down on rule-breakers and were able to issue advice, notices and fines.
“The trouble is, the rules surrounding this lockdown are Mickey Mouse and even trading standards are not sure what counts as non-compliance,” he said.
“To be honest I am exasperated by it. It’s either a lockdown or its not. And as far as I can work out, all you have to do is put bottles of bleach or packets of chocolate biscuits on your shelf, and you can claim to be an essential business – even if the rest of the stuff you stock is not.”