Independent shops help mark Ripley out from the crowd

editorial image

It is a constant gripe among shoppers nowadays.

Everywhere looks the same, places blend into one another, all the individual character has been driven out of our towns by the relentless advance of the big corporations.

Coffee chains, betting shops, pay-day loan places, the same four supermarkets on every high street on every town in every part of the country.

Does it have to be like this everywhere? Or are there places that manage to maintain their individuality despite the commercial pressures?

In fact, Ripley is one of the few places that has managed to retain its individual character and as a result has the highest percentage of independent shops on its high street in the East Midlands.

Town council leader, Steve Freeborn, said: “Yes, we are very proud of our independent shops in Ripley.

“We certainly offer a very different shopping experience to Heanor and Alfreton, and while Belper has won awards for the quality of its high street we like to think we are a bit more of a working town and our offer reflects that.”

“People like the more personalised relationship you get with independent traders who know it is their livelihood on the line and provide a better service to people as a result,” he added.

He also said one of the factors that worked in the town’s favour was the smaller size of its shop units.

This had helped it to resist the influx of the bigger national chains that other towns have seen.

Tony England, of Grosvenor Road’s England Barker jewellers, who is also a prominent figure in the local Chamber of Trade, agreed: “Like all places we have our fair share of charity shops springing up, but we do have quite a lot of good quality independent shops as well.

“I think they have survived because they offer something a bit more special and a bit more choice - something a bit different.

“Another thing is service and you always get great service from an independent.”

Tony said another thing that helped local independent traders were the events the town hosted, such as the Michaelmas Market which this year will take place on Sunday November 29.

Last year’s inaugural event attracted thousands of people and provided an opportunity for shops on the periphery of town such as Emma’s cake shop to get in on the action as well.

One of the jewels in the town’s crown is undoubtedly Clarke’s, a family-run department store which has been a fixture in the town for over 100 years.

Its owner, David Clarke, said there would always be pressure from bigger stores outside the area, but their business was still growing slowly and he was glad the independence that is important to him seems to be increasingly valued by shoppers.

He added: “The recent resurgence in interest in independents proves people value a high street that is not just dominated by multiples which can be quite faceless.

“Independent shops like us are trying to fight that and Ripley is quite lucky that it has so many.”

However, Steve Freeborn stressed the town isn’t completely closed to bigger companies and added the ones it has have complemented the town’s independent shops rather than crowding them out.

He said: “A lot of people come in from outside to do their main shop in the Co-op or Aldi.

“These people then have a look around as well and footfall increases for all our businesses as a result.”