FOR decades a greengrocer has been a popular fixture in Havant town centre.
But the last independent fruit and vegetable shop has been forced to shut up shop after a new landlord bought its historic premises.
Havant Fruit and Flowers had been run by the Willis family for the past 15 years.
Situated in old stables in West Street, it was a must for many shoppers along with the town’s independent butcher and baker.
The family were asked to vacate the property as plans are afoot to renovate that side of the listed building.
The unit next door – Davies Chemist which opened in 1879 – has also been bought and will continue as a pharmacy.
John Willis said his family were gutted to leave the shop.
He said: ‘Fifteen years we have been here and all of a sudden it’s been taken away from us.
‘The building had to be sold as a vacant possession.
‘Customers are gutted.
‘They come in and some are leaving in tears – you don’t think you have that much of an impact.’
His mum Stephanie said: ‘It’s just such a shock.
‘Telling the customers was horrible.’
Mrs Willis is hoping to continue the flower side of the business from home.
There is a faint glimmer of hope that the business may return once renovations are complete, but there are no guarantees.
Mr Willis added: ‘It’s out of our hands.
‘There’s possibly plans to take this dividing wall down and make this place bigger.
‘We have got first refusal to come back once it’s done.
‘It just depends on rates and rent. We don’t know.’
The shop showed how popular it was last year when more than 1,000 people signed a petition to stop Costa putting in three tables and chairs on the pavement directly next to it, which would have meant fresh produce could not be stored next to smokers.
Customers spoke of their dismay about the shop closing.
Sally Morris, of Cross Way, Havant, said: ‘It’s really sad.
‘They have been here for years.
‘It’s better than some of the big supermarkets.
‘It’s a shock.’
Staff at Davies Chemist told The News the building had been bought and the pharmacy would stay open.
The new landlord was not available for comment.
David Guest, deputy leader of Havant Borough Council and ward member for St Faith’s, said: ‘Hopefully we have not lost it and they are able to relocate.
‘A lot of people enjoyed that shop and I’m very sorry to see it go.’
He said that independent shops were an important part of Havant.
‘It’s nice for people to have a choice,’ he said.
‘As long as people use these independent shops, they will survive.
‘There’s no guarantee they will stay around.
‘We just want to encourage more people to open small shops.’