INDEPENDENT traders in Durham city centre are taking the battle to big business by launching a scheme to encourage shoppers to support local firms.
In just four weeks, about 70 small businesses have signed up to the Totally Locally Durham campaign, ahead of its formal launch next week.
Company information, offers, discounts, special initiatives and more will be promoted through a new website, at totallylocallydurham.co.uk, which will also include features on Durham’s “hidden gems” and customer reviews and comments.
Campaign organiser Colin Wilkes, managing director of Durham Markets Company, said: “The big challenge for these businesses is the growth of out-of-town retail and Internet sales.
“People who would have traditionally supported city centre shops are no longer coming in to shop.
“We want to remind people of the quality, diversity and range of independent businesses that we have in Durham and that they really make up the character of Durham.
“High street shops can be found, as the name suggests, on any high street. It’s the independent shops that are the little gems.”
Totally Locally is a nationally designed toolkit, which has proved particularly popular in Yorkshire towns and villages.
The initiative will be launched in Durham Market Place, on Thursday, June 12, when supporters will be distributing information.
The first initiative will be a Fiver Fest, which will see many participating businesses offering services or products at a discounted rate of £5. This will run from Thursday for three days.
There are more than 100 independent firms in Durham city centre, but they are facing increasing competition from the Arnison Centre, Dragonville and Durham City retail parks, plus online shopping.
Mr Wilkes said footfall had fallen over the past five years and conditions in the retail sector were “tough”.
But he said there were some “cracking” independent businesses in Durham and they were better placed than larger firms to respond to changing circumstances.
The scheme is free to participating businesses, with the costs covered by the Durham Markets Company, the Chamber of Trade and Vennels Cafe, off Saddler Street.
Michael Powney, who has owned Vennels for 25 years, said: “We want to make people mindful of the resource that some local shops are.
“Supporting them benefits the customers, the traders and the local community.
“To ignore these local traders pushes us to the situation where we just get more and more nationals, which removes the essence of the local market town."
Organisers hope the project will bring independent traders together and are particularly targeting shoppers living within 10 miles of Durham.