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'Everyone has gone': West Country business owner reflects on the state of our high streets

There are concerns West Country high streets are in trouble despite latest ONS figures revealing retail sales actually increased in March.

According to most recent ONS figures, retail sales jumped in March this year. Credit: ITV West Country

John Barron has owned a clothes shop in Somerset for 35 years.

When he first launched the business in Chard, he was amongst seven other clothes shops and four shoe shops.

Now, he says, "everyone has gone".

We have to provide a better level of service and that's the only way we can compete and do our own thing slightly differently than the big boys.

– John Barron
John Barron has traded in Chard for more than three decades. Credit: ITV West Country

Local high streets have had a challenging few years and traditional traders in Chard say they are worried.

Tom is the latest owner of a butchers in the town and said he now has to "rely purely on all regular customers" who are irreplaceable when they move on.

We have to rely purely on all regular customers, more or less, and as each one maybe moves or somebody passes away there's no replacement for them anymore.

– Tom Foley, Country Butchers
When regular customers move elsewhere, local shops are saying there's nobody to replace their custom. Credit: ITV West Country

Other business owners in Chard are more optimistic and think the high street can be saved by targeting the buyers.

Stevie Kesham has recently taken over Chard Bookshop. She told ITV West Country:

There's a lot of talk of the high street dying but it's more about the buyers - if they want to support their local community or not and I think the more and more empty shops they see the more and more it twigs - I better go in my local bookshop.

– Stevie Kesham, Chard Bookshop
For some business owners the current climate isn't affecting their optimism. Credit: ITV West Country

They say one way to boost business in the local high street is to improve people's experiences in the town.

The owners of Eleos Cafe have helped develop the Chard Loyalty Card, which is a group of independent traders who have joined together to encourage people to buy independent and support local families.

Local traders have created a loyalty card to encourage locals to shop independently and support small businesses. Credit: ITV West Country