Independent shops are pride of the high street

Elle Sexton of Withit
Elle Sexton of Withit
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Independent retailers bring diversity and unique experiences to high streets and shopping centres across the country

And, more importantly, statistics show that for every £1 spent with a local, independent business, between 50p-70p circulates back into that local economy – considerably higher than that of large businesses.

Their contribution has just been highlighted during Independent Retailer Month – the annual celebration of the key role smaller local retailers play in the communities they serve, the importance they have in the national retail sector and their significance to local economies.

To mark the occasion, The News spoke to some of the independents that are based in the Cascades Shopping Centre, in Portsmouth.

‘The independent retailers in Cascades make up some of the most popular, unusual and exclusive shops in the city,’ said Rhoda Joseph, centre director.

‘That’s something we’re immensely proud of.

‘We really believe in supporting independent retailers.

‘One of the many things we pride ourselves on here at Cascades is the range of retail options our shoppers have and our independent stores are a key part of that mix.’

Cascades is home to a significant number of independent retailers, from menswear company Hemingway and award-winning children’s clothing Marabella’s Boutique to traditional sweet shop Sweets 4 U; from alternative clothing store and body piercing studio Withit to Capkandi, specialists in headwear, clothing and accessories.

‘We have a great range of independents, some of whom have been here for years and some that are new but already have a devoted following,’ said Rhoda.

Elle Sexton, piercing studio manager at Withit, said the store at Cascades had given the company a chance to evolve and grow since the doors to the shop first opened in 1992.

‘We have a really loyal customer base and a big part of that is down to being in Cascades,’ said Elle.

‘Being an independent retailer can be seen as a disadvantage compared to some of the big names on the high street, but we’ve found that being an independent, combined with the space that we’ve got here at Cascades, has allowed us to be able to adapt, evolve and grow.

‘The store is unrecognisable from the one that opened in 1992 and that’s a really great thing for us, as it means we’ve been able to move with the times and trends. We’ve listened to our customers over the years and that’s been a key part of our success.’

The ability to adapt and grow has been crucial to other stores in the centre, including Capkandi.

‘We originally started online 10 years ago, but we always had an eye on moving to Cascades even when we had our original unit in Havant,’ said store manager Vicki Coombs.

‘Since we opened at Cascades we’ve developed a real niche, specifically for NFL clothing and apparel.

‘We’re the only place on the south coast where shoppers can buy headwear, clothing and accessories from all 32 NFL teams.

‘It has meant that we have a really loyal and devoted following, especially in the Portsmouth and Hampshire area.

‘If we were part of a chain, we wouldn’t have been able to listen to our customers and adapt so quickly to demand.

‘As times and trends change, different parts of the city have become “the cool part”, but then as time goes by areas become less popular.

‘Being in Cascades has given us a stable location for us to flourish.’

Sweets 4 U is another independent that has thrived, even though the store only opened at the centre in November last year.

‘This is the one that I always dreamed of having,’ said Sweets 4 U owner Kevin Warne.

‘Cascades has been great for our business, as we’ve been able to expand our offering to the point where we now have the largest selection of American sweets on the south coast.

‘The centre is well-known for being a great place for independent retailers to be and we’ve really experienced that. We’re now at a point where we’re looking to expand again and I don’t think that would have happened if we’d opened our second store somewhere else.’

Darren Pang, manager at Hemingway, believes the sheer number of independent retailers in Cascades has meant that they thrive collectively.

‘We’ve been here for more than 25 years and have seen the centre change a lot, but one of the things that has stayed constant is the number of independents,’ said Darren.

‘Our offering is menswear with a focus on items that you just can’t get from others in the area.

‘We’ve got great relationships with our customers and other retailers in the centre and I know a lot of the other independents do too.

‘Those relationships are really important for all of us. For example, if we have a customer looking for a specific item but we don’t have it but we know another one of the guys in the centre does, we’re always more than happy to send them there, and it works the other way.’

Rhoda said this spirit of teamwork and camaraderie typified the independent retailers’ approach in Cascades.

‘We really are one big community here,’ she explained.

‘We’re very fortunate that we have such a terrific mix of big brands and smaller independents, and that’s something we’re always thrilled to shine a light on during Independent Retailer Month. Everyone here at the centre is hoping that one of our independents takes home the Independent Retailer Award in The News’ Retail and Leisure Awards in September.’