INDEPENDENT traders in Oxford appealed for support as they warned they faced the hardest times they had known.

Yesterday was declared Independents’ Day in a national campaign to get shoppers using independent stores again.

John Partington, of the Covered Market Traders Association, said small businesses were facing the hardest times he had known in his career.

He said: “At the moment it is just doom and gloom. It is a bit grim. And it has been going on for a while.

“It is a bit of a myth that people do not have much money. They just haven’t got the confidence to spend.”

He said there was a real risk of a large chunk of independent stores closing down.

He said: “You can buy everything in a supermarket now.

“Hopefully this day will highlight the fact the independent people are still around and they can offer a choice.”

Luis Tulip, owner of Beeline Bicycles, who opened another store in Cowley Road, on Saturday, welcomed the campaign.

He said: “In most cases the independent stores are owned by families that live in the community, so supporting them supports the local community.

“It also creates a diversity on the high street rather than every town and city looking the same.”

Independents’ Day, a spin on America’s Independence Day, encourages everyone to buy at least one item from a independent store.

Amanda Suliman Bell, owner of Rainbow and Spoon clothing store in Park End Street, said: “The chain stores have more buying power and more of a budget for advertising. And when they put on a sale we are obliged to follow suit in order to compete.

“It is a marvellous idea to show people the plight of the independent retailers and it is important to get behind them to keep a good looking high street with a lot of variety.”

She added: “The high street could become a very boring place, taken over by coffee shops and phone shops. There will be no choice and everything will start to look the same.”

Max Mason, owner of the Big Bang restaurant in Walton Street that looks set to close due to building work, said shoppers needed more motivation to eat at independent restaurants.

He said: “If it is cheaper to go to McDonald’s then they will do. We are seeing the independent commercial framework of restaurants collapse.”

Independents’ Day is a campaign from Skillsmart Retail and the National Skills Academy for Retail.

Anna Seaman, chief executive of Skillsmart Retail, said: “Raising awareness amongst the public is one of the biggest challenges smaller retailers face, and our message is about encouraging the public to use their local high street and understand how important a diverse retail sector is.”