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No bunting to be seen but there's a leak in the charity shop ceiling; Lee Mottersheadspends the morning in Epsom to assess whether Derby fever is catching.

For well over two centuries the Surrey town of Epsom has been home to the world's greatest Flat race. We are just three days away from that race's 237th running, but on a wet Wednesday you won't find Derby fever in the air here, just drizzly rain.

If Epsom is a place that wants to shout its association with the Derby from the rooftops, it does not shout loudly. You could drive from one end of the High Street to the other and have absolutely no idea that up on the Downs one of Britain's most famous sporting contests will soon be staged.

Nearby Wimbledon goes tennis crazy during Championships fortnight. Shop windows are full of balls and racquets. Save for a few exceptions to the rule, Epsom's retailers do not embrace the Derby in anything like the same way. There are no flags in the streets, no banners, no bunting and no signs, save for one provided by the Automobile Association that tells drivers to turn left for The Hill.

If those motorists park in The Ashley Centre before strolling around the ground floor mall they will at least see a children's craft stall that this week offers a number of Derby-related activities, the latest being to make your own top hat.

Susan Walker is here with her grandson, whose attention is fixed firmly on millinery matters. "I've lived in Epsom all my life and when you say you come from here, people do mention the Derby straight away," says Susan, who will watch the Classic on television.

"When it was on a Wednesday people used to take the day off work," she adds. "You would see the open-top buses coming through town, but now they go straight to the racecourse. Of course, we never used to be pedestrianised."

Pedestrians, who could have watched the Pantomime Horse Derby on Monday before going on a Derby history walk tonight, provide the income of the man running the mobile food stall, where a chicken burger and chips costs PS3.50.

"A lot of the locals think the Derby is more a nuisance than anything else," he says. "The racing brings in business for the pubs, but it does nothing for the shops or people like me. I'm quieter during Derby week than any other week of the year. I might get a few drunks buying food, but I lose my regular customers.

"Epsom's a funny place, though. We don't really have the major stores here. It's all phone shops, charity shops, coffee shops and opticians."

Before he attends to a sunnyside-up egg, I ask him for his name. "I'm not telling you - the council might take my licence away," he insists, before one of those regular customers, perhaps a fan of Dad's Army, says loudly: "Tell him your name Paul."

There is, however, evidence that plenty of locals do enjoy a trip to the Derby meeting, and it comes at Dolly Goes Dancing, an Upper High Street hairdressers that definitely makes money out of the racing.

"On ladies' day we open at 6am and we're busy until noon," says Dolly's Chloe Gillam, whose top is most sparkly. "We make a big thing of it and have to bring in extra staff. We also do breakfast and serve Buck's Fizz plus muesli and yoghurt.

"It will be really buzzing on Friday. We do all styles but quite a lot of people are having their hair up at the moment. Curls are popular as well.

"Some of the girls from here are going on Friday. I'm not, though, because of the weather."

It is indeed still raining, including inside the Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People charity shop, manned by many friendly ladies, including June Eales, who before spelling her surname cautions: "Not like jellied."

UNE mentions the shop has a leak. "Here," she says, "I'll show you the leak."

J" June then takes me by the hand and escorts me to a spot where water is indeed dripping through the ceiling. "We're leaking," she says, to underline the point. "They're building flats above us. That's what's done it."

Fortunately the contents of the window display are dry because the ladies have made a real effort. Pages from the Racing Post are pinned to the wall and there are books, a painting of a horse and a racing board game for sale. Hurrah!

"The council could do more," suggests assistant Gwen Dick. "I'm sure there used to be a parade but there isn't nowadays. Maybe that's just apathy. People who come in here don't really talk about the Derby."

Does Gwen have any Derby memories of her own? "I remember the streaker," she says, while manager Sharon Hamill asks: "Could you let your readers know we need donations of horsey ornaments?" Help them if you can. Without the ladies, and a small handful of others, Epsom town centre might easily be a Derbyfree zone.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2016
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