ABERGAVENNY is renowned for its historic market and local shops which are at the heart of the community. KATH SKELLON reports.

Known as the gateway to Wales, Abergavenny is a vibrant town filled with independent shops and a popular market which attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Its indoor and outdoor markets in the Market Hall have been an important part of the town since medieval times and the £3m scheme to regenerate the Brewery Yard has transformed the area behind the Market Hall into a vibrant and attractive hub of the community.

The town provides a unique and attractive shopping experience. Market trader Karen Reed, has run her florists 'Buds 'n' Bows in the Market Hall for 15 years.

She said the market is the ‘oldest supermarket’ in the town and provides shoppers with everything under one roof.

"We have more than 40 stalls offering a good selection of items from fruit and veg to homemade foods, books, crafts and clothing," said Miss Reed, who is chairwoman of the Market Traders Federation.

"It is vital that shoppers coming into Abergavenny support the markets and smaller retailers and buy locally-sourced products. "Our customers regularly travel a long way to shop in Abergavenny and the market has become a part of their life."

Chris Wilkins, manager, of one of the oldest butchers in Abergavenny said shops like his are at the heart of the town.

"We are not only the heart of the town but an important part of the community," said Mr Wilkins of H.J Edwards Butchers of Flannel Street.

"This business has been here over 100 years and used to be in what was called butchers row," he said.

"We offer a personal service and take pride in knowing our customers by name and over the years have become friends. We have loyal customers who, especially the elderly, enjoy a conversation when they come into our shop," he said.

"We use locally produced meat, our lamb comes from an independent supplier in Hay-on-Wye and our staff are craftsmen who are skilled in the trade."

"I would encourage people to get behind the independent shops. It's sad we're losing the Cattle Market and disappointing that Morrison's are coming."

"When I was young you couldn't move in town on market down but now we just don't seem to be attracting people to Abergavenny anymore.

"We need to get people back into the town more than ever," he added.

Local pig breeders Rachel and Mark Nicholas began making and selling their prize-winning sausages almost two years ago.

Mrs Nicholas, 27, of Crown Farm Meats, sells her home-made sausages from a kiosk in Cibi Walk shopping precinct.

The couple, who have been breeding British Lops on their farm near Raglan for seven years, set up the kiosk 11 months ago.

"Our customers know where the meat has come from and know exactly what's in them," said Mrs Nicholas.

"It’s vital that people support their local shops and buy locally, especially with a new supermarket coming into the town."

"If you want to keep the town and its market going then we need their support," she added.

James Brailey opened men's clothing store 'Retreat' on Frogmore Street just over four years ago. Mr Brailey, 32, believes the independent shops set Abergavenny apart from those in cities such as Cardiff.

"Many customers travel from outside the county to shop in Abergavenny and I think we offer something different to customers that the larger national store's don't," he said.

What Abergavenny shoppers think

Trevor Turner MBE, 80, of Holywell Road, said he regularly shops locally because of the quality of the products and assistance he gets.

"It the personal contact that independent retailers, such as H.J Edwards, give customers and the presentation is excellent," said Mr Turner.

"The market is a tremendous asset to the town and we are lucky to have a market of the calibre that we do," he added.

"The message is simple use your local shops or lose them," he said. Jim Sharpe,70, of Llanvapley, said: "Abergavenny has a fantastic selection of independent shops. My family and I regularly use the fruit and veg shops and the market but the danger is that supermarket are becoming a one-stop shop," he said.

"If you want to keep shopping we have to keep using them," he added.

Barry Greenwood, 67, of Old Monmouth Road said he gets everything he needs from shops in the town centre and only uses the supermarket for things he can't get in the town.

"We buy our fresh veg, meats and basically everything we need, including using the local chemist," he said.

Malcolm Ewers, 60, of Llwynu Lane, said he is concerned that shops are closing down.

"More people should come here. We need to encourage shoppers back into the town."

"I regularly shop in the town but think the parking charges are deterring people."