A FAMILY-RUN flower shop is closing its doors after 20 years of trading, blaming town centre parking regulations for a drop in footfall.
Flowers by Nattrass is closing its West Row shop, in Darlington, on Saturday (April 26), but it is business as usual for the Duke Street branch.
The company has been trading for 55 years, having been set up in Hurworth in February 1959.
Its Duke Street store opened in 1971 and the West Row branch, part of the Indoor Market building, followed in 1994.
Katie Bennett is the third generation of her family to work for the business, which was started by her grandparents, Ron and Dorothy Nattrass.
She said: “There will be rumours about the business not doing well, so I want to try and quell them as soon as possible.
“We’ve had a review of our business, and although the West Row shop is covering its costs, people are changing the way they’re buying.
“We’ve recently had a new website built, which has had a fantastic response.
“Wedding and event inquiries are up two-fold – we’ve never had so many weddings booked in for the year ahead as we do now.
“In terms of orders off the website, we had three times more web-orders than customers ordering from our West Row shop during our last peak period – Mother’s Day.
“We can only predict that that trend will become more and more prominent with people gradually moving their shopping online.”
Miss Bennett described town centre parking in Darlington as a ‘complete nightmare’.
She added: “Along with people’s buying habits, the council’s policy on parking in the town centre, we feel, has contributed to the decline of footfall in Darlington town centre.
“Parking is a complete nightmare in the town, putting people off travelling in from other areas as they have to pay a fortune to park for a couple of hours. The traffic wardens are also far too enthusiastic.
“Out of town shopping parks do so well, as it’s free and easy to park.”
She fears that Darlington is losing its identity as a market town and called on Darlington Borough Council to overhaul the market.
She added: “The outdoor market should never have been moved out of the Market Square – it now gets dotted around the town centre.
“Most of the time the Market Square lies empty, when it could be used for parking.
“I just want to let people know that, yes, we’re closing a shop down, but Flowers by Nattrass is doing better than ever in other areas.”
Council leader Bill Dixon said there had been an increase in the number of people using council-run car parks in the past year.
He added: “Flowers by Nattrass is a great company and I am sorry they will no longer be in the market, but at least they will still be in Duke Street.”