'Traders need to move with times'
CRANBROOK traders have been told they must stop haphazard opening hours and ensure their shelves are full before they can contemplate cashing in on tourists.
Last week, new parish council chairman Francis Rook warned some shopkeepers were "on a knife edge" and outlined plans to boost trade by hosting more town centre events and bussing in visitors from nearby Sissinghurst Castle.
But in response, businessman and longstanding resident John Clement said the first thing that needed addressing was some shops' outdated approach.
Mr Clement, a graphic designer who works from his Dr Hopes Road home, said: "Maybe they should try running their shops more like a business. Some of them don't open between Christmas and New Year, making Cranbrook a dead town, so locals and tourists alike have to travel to Tenterden."
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Few shops in Cranbrook open on Sundays and many still close early on Wednesdays. But Mr Clement was particularly critical of those which temporarily shut so staff could pop out for a few minutes.
He said: "Some seem to open and close when they feel like it, not sticking to set hours, even shutting sometimes for lunch, when a lot of people have to pop out."
Mr Clement added that even when shops were open they were often poorly stocked, saying: "I have lost count of the amount of times I have gone down to get stuff for my work or home and they are out of stock. This has included everyday office supplies like a ream of A4 paper."
Businesses have conceded that opening hours can be a problem but said there was a limit to what could be achieved with small workforces.
Michael Blackford, owner of Banghams electrical shop in the High Street, said: "Shops will close on Wednesdays or Sundays because a lot of traders are working on their own and don't have a choice.
"But then if they need to pop out and their sign says 'back in five minutes', they should make sure they only are five minutes as people don't like to be kept waiting."
Phil Mummery, who has owned Phillips Man's Shop since 1976 and is also one of the organisers of the annual Apple Festival, said: "Opening additional days is really about whether you make a profit.
"I do think shops should be opening on Wednesday afternoons now – we certainly do.
"Shops are encouraged to open on Sundays in the run-up to Christmas but traders can't open on days if they lose money as a result."
A keen member of the Cranbrook Business Association, Mr Mummery said traders had planned several events to draw more visitors to the town, including a new Independent Retailers week running from June 30 to July 7 which would include games, competitions and promotional offers.
"More than 30 shops have contributed to this, it's being self-financed and it's an overwhelming sign that traders want to promote this town," he said.