New store brings hope to Beccles

THE Beccles shopping scene received a timely boost this week as it was announced that fashionable outdoor clothing store Fat Face will be opening in the town at the beginning of next year.

THE Beccles shopping scene received a timely boost this week as it was announced that fashionable outdoor clothing store Fat Face will be opening in the town at the beginning of next year.

But the news was tempered by the cloud hanging over the Beccles branch of Woolworth's - one of 815 Woolies stores countrywide facing the possibility of closure after the ailing company was taken into administration. Yesterday shoppers spoke of their sadness at the predicament.

But Fat Face is great news for the town. The popular chain brand, which also has outlets in Norwich and Ipswich, is all set to open at the new Taylor Square development in Newgate in February. It will offer clothing and shoes for men, women and children “for those who love to get out there,” as well as a range of accessories such as wallets, bags and jewellery.

The news has been widely welcomed in Beccles, although the town council initially questioned whether a sign reading the words “Fat Face” would be suitable for Newgate.

Chairman of planning for Beccles Town Council Brian Woodruff said: “It's another retailer opening in Beccles and good luck to it. The only query was the shop sign in what is technically a conservation area. But you can't stop progress. Realistically we don't want to be fuddy duddies.”

The store will follow the arrival of another popular chain store, WH Smith, which came to Beccles in June. But Christine Pinsent, chair of the Beccles Business Association, said she did not think it would create unwanted competition for the town's independent shops.

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“It's more of a specialist designer shop that I don't think would upset anyone else,” she said. “It's different and we like different things. It will attract a different clientele to the town who might stop and shop in all the other shops.”

Fat Face property director Jeremy Smith said: “Fat Face has chosen to open in the historic market town of Beccles as the town's busy and vibrant atmosphere is well suited to Fat Face customers needs. We have several stores in the area, from larger stores in Norwich and Ipswich to smaller stores near the coast in Holt and Burnham Deepdale.”

The Fat Face brand started out as a small business in the French Alps run by two surf and ski friends in 1988, but has since grown to over 140 stores across the UK.

Five other stores to be opened at the Taylor Square development are yet to be named.

Over at Woolworth's long queues snaked through the store yesterday, with shoppers hoping to snap up some Christmas bargains in the shop's closing down sale, following the news that the chain could be on its way out.

But although big signs promising reductions of up to 50pc enticed in shoppers in their droves, only a handful of items had been slashed to half price and many customers left empty-handed and upset at the thought of losing the long-standing shop.

Susan Curtis, 47, who lives and owns a shop in Bungay but visits Woolworths in Beccles regularly, said: “I'm absolutely devastated, especially for people in Beccles and the surrounding villages because people who use the bus here and might not want to travel further afield. You can buy so many things at such reasonable prices and it will be so missed. It's a very big focal point in the town.”

She added: “I know two people who have worked here for 20 years. I'm gutted.”

Extra cashiers had been brought in to cope with the extra shoppers, with nearly 30 customers in the queue for the tills before 9am.

Bronwen Edwards, 36, from Beccles, said she normally shops at Woolworths three times a week.

She said: “I think it is a real shame because this is the shop I go in most. Having two children, it's very affordable. There are lots of other shops that follow trends but this is a traditional shop, which is why I like it. It's nice to get a bargain but I'd rather the shop stayed open.”

Rodney Wall, 64, from Worlingham, agreed, saying: “I think it's a terrible thing to happen, especially in a small town like this. The most important thing is I hope those people can get other jobs.”