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Simon Parke: Newsagents under attack

06 February 2008

“MY PARENTS used to run a paper shop — until it blew away.” But it is not all comedy for newsagents, as this month’s Asian Trader reveals.

First, with Easter at its earliest since 1913, there is important business to be done. St Valentine’s Day? Mothering Sunday? Easter? Don’t just stand there — stock up with Ferrero Rocher. Easter is second only to Christmas for confectionery: 64 per cent of independent retailers’ sales come from “impulse lines” such as Creme Eggs or Mini Eggs. “These were in the warehouses before Christmas, and should have been on your shelves on Boxing Day,” says Graham Walker from Nestlé. “Remember the early Easter — it’s a race against time.”

Meanwhile, the remarkable Mosquito device is causing controversy. It is a gadget that sends out a high-pitched sound — unbearable to people under the age of 20, and yet inaudible to older people. (Like many sermons?) The Mosquito has already proved effective in places notorious for anti-social behaviour — a boon to councils and traders alike.

Children’s campaigners, however, say it breaches human rights — the right of children to “assemble and socialise” under Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As MPs consider it, the Asian Trader is clear: “Once again, the rights of the perpetrators of crime seem to take precedence over the rights of the victim.”

It is one thing getting rid of unwanted youths from outside your store. But how do you shift a Chancellor? There is much consternation among shopkeepers over the proposed move to cut the basic rate of capital-gains tax. Ultimately, many of them plan to sell their businesses in order to pay for their retirement. These new proposals would kill such hopes at a stroke. Current discussions with the Chancellor, however, give some reason for optimism.

Good news also for small traders in Sheringham. After a ten-year campaign, an application from Tesco for a large store in the town has been unanimously turned down by the North Norfolk District Council.

So, sometimes, the small people win; and at other times, they lose — particularly when their opponent has a gun. Last month, Anthony Gurney was given a nine-year minimum sentence at the Old Bailey. He had threatened Mr Zarate, a shopkeeper in Hove, Sussex, with a sawn-off shotgun. When Mr Zarate tried to push the gun away, the raider fired, blasting away part of the shopkeeper’s hand and leaving him nearly blind. The attacker ran off with £165.

Mr Zarate has been told by surgeons that he should expect to lose all sight soon. They are, however, trying to rebuild his shattered hand with bone from his hip. For the moment at least, this Asian trader is back behind the counter of his seaside store — but with more of Lent in his heart than Easter.


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