Disaster for town shop tills

SNOW and ice made thousands of shoppers stay at home the weekend before Christmas, creating a ‘disastrous’ downturn in trade for shops and businesses.

With the ongoing recession already making life hard for the local economy, the Arctic spell meant there were 15,000 less shoppers in town on Saturday – traditionally one of the busiest trading days in the calendar – compared to the same day last year.

Town centre manager Rob Woods said: “The sheer dire weather on Saturday meant that trade was disastrous. It was one of the most important days of the year and we have had to write it off.

“Footfall was 33 per cent down compared to 2009. We expected it to be greater or equivalent.”

Mr Woods added that last week saw an eight per cent drop in the number of shoppers, compared to the same period last year and a 10 per cent fall the previous week.

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John Hough, manager of Priory Meadow shopping centre, described Saturday’s trade as ‘absolutely dreadful’.

He said: “The weather has not helped and on Saturday everything seemed to be conspiring against us. Sunday was also quieter than usual.

“On Saturday around 43,000 people walked through our doors but in the same day last year the figure was almost 58,000.”

Traders in George Street in Old Town are also feeling the pinch due to recent snow and icy conditions.

Jackie Wareham, who owns The Old Town Florist, said the last few weeks for trade had been ‘quite awful’.

She said: “It’s been a combination of factors, not just the bad weather but also that there is nowhere to park, which puts people off coming to the Old Town.

“The weather certainly has not helped and late-night shopping has been quieter compared to last year.”

Alberto Chies, owner of Roomings furniture shop, said: “The snow has definitely affected us with more people staying at home.

“It has been quieter and worse than last year and hardly anyone has been in for late-night shopping. It has been a very difficult month but I think the recession has affected it as well.”

Jeff Doak, owner of Mr and Mrs Doak’s Big Bumper Bookshop for Boys and Girls, said: “It’s been a lot quieter as the pavements through Old Town have been icy and people have struggled to walk down here. In between the snow showers people have been coming into the shop.”

But Mr Hough said there was a ‘real surge’ of shoppers on Monday in the town centre, with the numbers being ‘significantly up on last year’, making up for Saturday’s poor performance.

He added: “We have also had a lot of feedback from shoppers and retailers to say they were worried about online orders not arriving so had gone back to buying on the High Street, which again is encouraging.

“And we do know that although there were less people in town, those that did were spending.”

And Paddy Piggott, owner of the Dragon Bar in George Street, said the snow had actually increased trade for him, with people in their droves coming in to escape the Arctic conditions.

He said: “It’s been amazing and unbelievable for us and our best period for trade.”