Salvation Army heads for the High Street

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GROWING numbers of traders and shoppers fear Leven’s town centre is being over-laden with charity shops.

Four are already bunched closely together in the High Street, with another at the Shorehead – and it’s believed a couple of other charitable outlets might be moving into the High Street soon.

The Salvation Army has confirmed it is looking at premises in the High Street, while the former ‘Pound’ shop premises are also lying vacant, amid talk that it could also host a charity venture.

All this, say some shopkeepers, could upset the flow for some of the neighbouring businesses, with the charity shops selling many of the same type of goods at cut-price costs.

While many accepted there was a need for charity shops, which support some vital causes, the variety of stores to tempt customers was being compromised.

It was also believed that large numbers of charity shops could be bad for town centre prosperity, if other businesses happened to suffer.

Some of Leven’s charity shop staff even agreed there were too many, while others said people wanted to support them if they identified personally – as many people did – with their specific cause.

Local charity workers also felt other businesses should be given a reduction in rent and rates, as economic times were difficult.

Traders in Leven believed charity shops had their place if they raised a substantial sum for their cause.

But outlets which paid no rates, were staffed mainly by unpaid volunteers and sold largely donated stock, had a clear advantage over a regular outlets.

Julie Herd, of ladies’ accessories shop Julie’s, said many of her customers, as well as neighbouring shopkeepers, felt the numbers of charity shops in Leven was excessive.

“I would not have a high street without a charity shop - there is a place for them,” she said. “But, when they start selling stock that other shops are selling for a cut price, there’s no way you can compete with that. And as a consumer, you’d be a fool to spend more money if you can get someting cheaper.”

Ms Herd said a number of local shops were trying to appeal over their rates, which were set by law against evaluations from 2008 – since when economic fortunes had changed.

Shopkeepers accepted they had to pay rates, she added, but many were aware there were shops in the same area, using the same services, which did not.

High rent was also expected if you were in a High Street, she added, but if you were surrounded by charity shops, it should perhaps be lower than if you were bordered by chain stores and independents.

“However, it’s not the fault of the individual shops – it’s those who are deciding where they go,” said Ms Herd.

“Some more independent stores make a high street individual from other high streets – we need more variety.”

Charity shops themselves were not immune to difficult times, with some noticing an occasional fall in donations, or more people opting to sell items on e-Bay.

Many, however, had a strong core of supporters who contributed regularly and there was little apparent competition for donations. And the numbers look set to increase further, with a spokesman for the Salvation Army’s Trading Company Ltd. (SATCoL) telling the Mail: “Although nothing is set in stone, we can confirm that SATCoL is in talks about opening a new charity shop in Leven.

“The negotiations are ongoing and it is likely that more details will be available in the New Year.”