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Sheffield's Dying Streets: Join the Local Economy Revolution

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According to a Guardian analysis of Ordnance Survey data, Sheffield has lost a staggering 17.8% of its shops in the last five years, more than double the national average of just 8% in England and Wales.

Recent months have seen well-loved independent traders like the Rude Shipyard and Homemade by Thelma's close down or put themselves up for sale.

Rising rents and ballooning business rates have already seen cult favourites like Rare & Racy consigned to the history books.

Independents face challenges on three further fronts: the rise in online shopping - which now accounts for nearly a fifth of all retail sales - the dominance of Meadowhall, and the advertising budgets of the big boys.

We know that if we don't take action now, the dwindling numbers of smaller businesses will kill off the city centre for good.

But it's not all doom and gloom.

To keep money in the local economy, we need innovative solutions

During Independent Retail Month, local social enterprise Opus is calling on consumers to reverse the fortunes of our city's much-loved shops and businesses, by using their #PocketPower.

Projects like Now Then Magazine aim to link consumers with independent businesses that keep money in the local economy, providing a positive 'multiplier effect' for every pound spent and a far more diverse and appealing retail offer.

Opus has built on the magazine's success with the launch of the Now Then App, making it even easier for independent traders to reach consumers who want to shop locally.

Now Then does not accept advertising from corporate chains or public companies, either in the magazine or on the Now Then App.

To keep money in the local economy, we need innovative solutions that level the playing field for the independent firms we love.

It is almost impossible for small businesses to pay the astronomical prices to develop their own phone apps, meaning that they struggle to compete with big corporations in the digital world.

The Now Then App aims to make it easier for independents, by providing them with a platform to shout about what they do.

The app is free to download, and contains all the great content from the print magazine. It also features exclusive articles on arts, culture and current affairs.

Quotes

Ruth from the Treehouse Board Game Cafe said:

"Independent businesses are what make the place you live unique and interesting. When you think about what's good about any town or city, you don't think about the shops or restaurants that everywhere has - you think about the businesses you can find only there. These are the sort of places you take visitors to see and tell people about.

When you spend money with a local business, you know that it's going to people who you can get to know and build a relationship with. It's a simple way to feel like (and become) part of a community, and it makes it easy to find out where the beer you're drinking or the sandwich you're eating or the clothes you're wearing came from, and who was involved along the way.

Since we opened The Treehouse, it's been wonderful to discover how much local businesses support each other, even when you might think they would be in competition. This suddenly becomes possible - probably even inevitable - when businesses operate at a human scale: people with shared passions, interests and problems tend to get on well and help each other out. So, by supporting one business, you're also helping a wider community."

James Lock, Director of Opus Independents said:

"Independent businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. They give our high streets their unique character and quirks, in a way that a Tesco never can. Not only this, but independent businesses pay their full share of tax, contributing to public services that we all use like the NHS. But it's the big boys who have unlimited resources to spend on advertising and public relations.

All too often, independent businesses struggle to connect with potential customers, even when they live a few doors down the road. That's why projects like Now Then and the Now Then App aim to connect socially conscious consumers with the makers, artists and traders who make Sheffield what it is."

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Jonny Douglas said:

"Independents across our city are doing amazing things, but they have to do everything themselves and just don't have the time or resources to promote what they're doing. We all need to make the choice to support them, because without them there will be no High Street.

The (in no way funny) irony is that the big brands need them most of all; they can't compete with the instantaneous gratification and convenience available online at the touch of a button and if the unique, authentic heart of Sheffield disappears, there will literally be no reason to venture into town.

Where you spend your money is one of the last true pieces of influence we all still have and each time you take your purse or wallet out of your pocket, you're shaping the world around you as you want it to be. The more informed and proactive we can be when wielding that #PocketPower, the better off we're all going to be."

Sam Gregory

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