Original article from Kent Live
London Road in Dover is a pretty busy place these days.
We counted well over 50 independent businesses open along it when MyDover visited last week.
Only a handful of units were empty.
That occupancy rate of over 90 per cent means it's doing considerably better than the main town centre area.
And if you speak to traders, they'll tell you that things have improved most markedly in the last few months.
That's despite the pandemic – despite the lockdowns and rule changes, the number limits and mask guidance, the openings and closings, and the massive shift to online shopping that's supposed to have taken place.
Despite it all, London Road is as thriving as ever.
Business owners have suggested a number of reasons for it.
Amanda Punton and her sister Emma Richards opened up for the first time exactly 11 days before the world changed with the first lockdown.
During it, they managed to keep paying rent by making masks.
It was a part-time venture at the time though, and it was only in April this year, with pandemic restrictions only just starting to relax, when they both decided to go full time.
"I think lots of people are just going for it," said Amanda. "People want to try something new after the last year, they've had the chance to think about doing something different.
"It also helps that the costs are lower.
"If we went up the other end of town it would be two or three times the rent.
"We were an emporium in Deal for a year, in a cubicle one day a week.
"It helped us realise people liked Upcycling – and that we could sell our stuff."
Another retailer, who has been on the road for over 20 years, had a different theory.
Gary Johnson, who owns the large furniture store Suite World, says the pandemic has actually increased trade, that he has "never been so busy".
"We've had five years of takings in the last 18 months," he said.
"I don't know why really. I think there's a lot of holiday money that people haven't used.
"People aren't going away and instead they're thinking about making themselves more comfortable at home.
"It's also relatively cheap to rent down here – much cheaper than the high street. Some of the smaller ones will be zero-rated.
"There's good access and we're very visible.
"And we've actually got more shops here than the town centre now.
"I think a lot of people like the independents – especially the older generation – and we're all independents along here."
Another new business attracted to the area by the cheap rates is the Tea Cafe, already becoming well known for its all-you-can-eat breakfasts.
Owner Saf and floor manager Kelly previously worked together as a chef and a waitress at a similar business in Canterbury.
They thought they made a good team and decided to branch out together in Dover.
"Dover is very cheap rates," said Saf. "It's at least three times more in Canterbury."
Kelly said: "I guess you could call it the new High Street. You would definitely say it's up and coming.
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"I've lived in Dover for 18 years and there have been a lot of new places opening up recently.
"I think each new one helps and we all help each other.
"The guy at Suite World does a lot of advertising and he's doing really well, and people often come into our place saying they're looking for the shop, and then they'll see us and come and have breakfast here after."
Amanda Punton at …. also pointed to businesses helping each other, how the area had become its own small community.
"We are all independents" she said. "We are friends with everyone along here.
"We all tell people about other shops.
"When it's someone's birthday, we will all go into their shop and sing happy birthday to them – that sort of thing.
"It's a really nice community."