HALF the independent shops in Huntingdon High Street could be forced to close by Christmas. That is the prediction of one owner who will cash up for the last time next month. Centre Crafts, which has been at No.34 for 29 years, has suffered from poor sales and the competition from the internet, despite a revival in knitting. Rent increases in the High Street and a robbery have also played their part in bringing the business to its knees. News of the shop's closure has been greeted with dismay by customers, who come from as far as Northampton, Peterborough and Royston to buy specialist materials for their hobbies. Although the last day of business is yet to be confirmed, it will be a matter of weeks rather than months, said owner Ian Jackson, who is set to become a driving instructor in St Neots. He said: "It really does come down to how fast we can sell the remaining stock. There are several reasons for the decision. When I took over three years ago, retail was quite buoyant but now retail on the High Street is in big trouble. "Consumer confidence is not as good as it was and the internet is forcing prices down. "At the same time overheads are going up - we hear of people in town whose rents are doubling and crippling them. Our landlord has been quite fair but the increase in rent has pushed us to the point where we could not make any money." A further blow came when hundreds of pounds was stolen from the premises on April 19, virtually "killing the business". The cash amounted to the shop's profit for a week, which was taken from Mr Jackson's briefcase in a back room. The owner admitted he had been ploughing his own savings into the business long before the theft, and just could no longer justify it. "If I didn't close now I would close in September and at the same time I would lose my house, so that was a no-brainer," Mr Jackson said. "Unless people are willing to support the small shops, and the fact we have to charge that bit more because of our overheads, they are going to lose our skills and knowledge." More must be done to support the smaller retailer in Huntingdon, he said, with four businesses closed within the space of six weeks. "I confidently predict that, unless something is done by the town centre management team, at least 50 per cent of the independents in the area will not last the year." Since clearance signs have been placed in the shop window, customers have been flowing steadily through the doors. Store assistant Maureen Killworth, whose daughter also works part-time at Centre Crafts, said: "I think it's very sad because so many people are going to miss us. Customers are upset because the business has been going for such a long time.