I was born in Portslade over 50 years ago and grew up surrounded by a range of small independent shops. On nearby North Street, there was Goble’s greengrocers, Rio’s café, Mrs Masters’s wool shop, Mary Whittaker’s sweet shop and Snowie’s – where my mum would send me to buy a block of ice cream that Mr Snow would wrap in a sheet of old newspaper – and where we took our jelly to set in his fridge as we didn’t have a fridge at home. This all happened a long time ago but if I close my eyes I can still see Ms Whittaker standing proudly behind, what seemed like at the time, her very high , sweet-laden counter.
These days although I, like many of us, am all too familiar with the convenience of supermarkets and high street chains, I can hardly recall my last visit to them and I doubt very much the experience will be something I’ll be talking about in five years’ time, never mind 50!
There are 8,000 entrepreneurs who run their own businesses in Brighton and Hove and last year, the Centre for Cities index ranked Brighton ahead of London, Oxford and Cambridge for the highest proportion of creative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) relative to the size of its total SME base. Small business owners work incredibly hard to keep their businesses going yet as a nation we rarely celebrate what they bring to the local economy and community.
Small businesses in this country provide almost two thirds of the private sector jobs and almost half of private sector turnover but we don’t seem to cherish them in the same way they do in France or Italy – or the USA, where the idea of Small Business Saturday (December 3) began.
On its own, Small Business Saturday will not change this or transform the fortunes of our small businesses but it does serve as a reminder that we can show our appreciation for those who take a risk by setting up independently, providing employment in our local communities and giving a personal service that can truly make a difference to our day.
Brighton and Hove is well known for its diverse range of independent boutiques. In the city centre, the North Laine and Lanes areas alone have over 500 independent retailers within a two-mile radius; an impressive selling point for the city and something which helps to draw in visitors from out of town all year round.
With deserted high streets up and down the country being a common theme for so many, we’re lucky to have such a great choice of independent shops, international restaurants, organic greengrocers and cafés. It’s not the case for everyone but overall, the independent business sector across the city is thriving.
I hope you get the chance to sample some of our finest on Small Business Saturday and over the coming months whether it be in Hove, Kemp Town, the seafront, Portslade or London Road, there’s a lot to be said for, as well as benefit to be had from, supporting the people and places that help to make our city the vibrant place that it is.
Small Business Saturday encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities. Visit: www.visitbrighton.com/shopping
Cllr Alan Robins chair of the economic development and culture committee on Brighton
and Hove City Council