THE owners of a restaurant in Maldon are urging residents to support local businesses after admitting their first year has been difficult.

High streets across the country have been affected by the growth of big brands and online retailers, but independent Maldon shops are still fighting.

Mario Nargi, director of Dante’s Brasserie on the High Street, said the restaurant’s first year has been difficult.

He said: “When local high streets have a decreased footfall it heavily impacts the small independents financially.

“We are not supported by investors with deep pockets, masking financial problems.

“We need local people to dine with us to survive.

“We are a young, family-run business that must earn money to pay our own bills, mortgage, car, and nursery fees.

“It’s stressful at times, and it can all be solved by people choosing local.”

The Office for National Statistics says online sales have overtaken in-store sales since 2016.

In 2017, online sales increased by 15.9 per cent from the previous year compared to an annual increase of 2.4 per cent within stores.

Dante’s is not the only Maldon business that has felt the impact as internet sales continue to rise and big brands take over.

A spokesman for homeware and gift shop TwoBecomeOne said: “We have noticed a drop in sales in comparison to the past few years.

“Footfall and the number of people coming to the shop has dwindled, but we luckily don’t solely rely on the shop for income.

“We have also noticed a lot of the other independent shops and businesses have closed down this year too.

“I do believe there has been a struggle and there are a few contributions to this – rent and rates make it hard for businesses to survive, as well as the new retail park by Tesco with its free parking.

“Butt Lane and White Horse Lane car parks have put their prices up and with all the new housing developments going on, there’s not enough parking space for the public, so they give up and leave.

“The car parking issue has been brought to our attention by a lot of our customers.”

Some shop owners claim the district council could do more to support small businesses, while others say customers can help.

The TwoBecomeOne spokesman said: “In my opinion I do believe the council could do a lot more to help small businesses.

“We pay business rates but do not get anything in return.”

District council spokesman Paul Dodson said: “The council recognises the challenges facing high street shops and small businesses. We are fortunate that our unique and independent High Street offer, and passionate local businesspeople, have meant that Maldon has fared better than many and remained bustling and popular.

“Our much-loved historic High Street benefits from an eclectic mix of retail, food, drink, leisure and other services, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

“New developments have meant the town is better able to cater for customer choice and less custom is lost to other areas. New housing will bring more customers to the High Street and so boost the local economy.

“Public transport infrastructure and better-connected routes from the new housing areas will encourage new residents to leave the car at home or at the edge of town retail areas to relieve pressure on town centre car parks and encourage walking and cycling.

“However, we know the historic High Street and its local shops do face their challenges, and we recognise that by working strategically and in partnership with local businesses, there is more that can be done.”