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Roll up! Norfolk market trader to retire after 50 years selling fruit and veg

PUBLISHED: 22:18 13 December 2017 | UPDATED: 22:18 13 December 2017

Tony Keeling is presented with a commemorative certificate by Robert Savage, mayor of Wymondham. Picture: Wymondham Town Council

Tony Keeling is presented with a commemorative certificate by Robert Savage, mayor of Wymondham. Picture: Wymondham Town Council

Archant

He has been a familiar sight selling locally-grown fruit and veg on the region’s markets for more than half a century, during which his tiny stall has battled the might of the supermarkets.

But now, after years of 2am and 3am starts, 69-year-old Tony Keeling is finally due to say “roll up” for the last time.

Over his long career, Mr Keeling has worked in markets in Stomarket, Diss, Wymondham and Swaffham.

As he prepared to hand the reins of the family business over to his son, Peter, he said the 14-hour days and competition from out of town supermarkets meant it was “not an easy career”. But while “supermarkets rule the roost now”, he declared: “It’s not their prices that are the problem, which everyone seems to think it is.

“I can compete with them fine. Today for example, the supermarkets are selling a pound of cherries for £5, ours are £2.50.

“The problem is the loss of footfall. These supermarkets are built on the outskirts of town with free parking and so they’re a lot more convenient.

“There’s just nothing like the same number of people walking through the town anymore.”

Mr Keeling collects all his produce on the day of sale, meaning it is “a lot fresher”.

That, he believes, has won him custom from the likes of Tesco and Morrisons, saying: “I’ve had a lot of customers who have tried the supermarket and end up coming back because they say my stuff is better quality.”

But while he says he has had a “good life and good career”, he said: “The 2am and 3am starts get too difficult when you get to my age. I think enough is enough.”

Of the future for his son, he said: “I shouldn’t really say what my advice for him is. It’s not an easy career - you’re working 14 hour days if you’re lucky. But he knows that as he as been working on the markets too for many years.

“Over my career, like in all businesses I suppose, there have been peaks and troughs. But over the last 10 years or so the markets here have been in decline.”

“I wouldn’t bet on my son having a career like mine, though things could turn around. If I could see into the future I’d be very rich. But there is an old saying about independent businesses - you either use them, or you lose them.”

He has been presented with a commemorative certificate by Wymondham mayor Robert Savage.

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