BLEAK footfall statistics for Stratford-upon-Avon show that 15 per cent fewer people came to the town centre in February this year compared to last.
The figures for 2013 make grim reading for town centre shopkeepers, with January’s footfall also down 10.7 per cent compared to the same month in 2012.
However, there’s a glimmer of hope on the economic horizon with news this week that Stratford’s bid for cash from Warwickshire County Council has been successful and a whopping £30,000—for a dazzling light display—has been given to the town to entice shoppers back on the streets to boost retail takings in time for Christmas.
Stratford is one of several local towns to be given the green light for much needed grants being handed out by the county council as part of ‘Operation Footfall,’ a key part of the council’s ‘Going for Growth’ agenda, design-ed to get people back on the streets and spending money.
For the time being, it remains a bleak mid-winter for retailers in Stratford and even though Chancellor George Osborne declared, “Britain is open for business,” in yesterday’s (Wednesday) Budget.
On the local retail scene, Claire Wright, owner of Gemini and Gemini Shoes, two of the town’s independent fashion shops, said the cold weather and last month’s opening of TK Maxx at the Maybird Centre had compounded the misery.
“February has been a tougher month than expected for both of our stores and whilst lower footfall will impact to some degree, there are two other key factors to consider,” she said.
“Firstly, last month’s well-publicised opening of budget fashion retailer TK Maxx at the Maybird Centre will certainly have some temporary effect on shopper numbers.
“Secondly, we believe our trade figures to be slightly down on 2012 due to the poor weather. So far this year we have not experienced the warm, spring-like conditions that typically trigger a shopping spree as customers think about shedding the winter layers.”
But Claire, who expects these abysmal months to end soon, thinks the “novelty factor” of the new TK Maxx will wear off.
And she said: “We are confident that a few warm days and an early Easter will drive custom back into our stores in the next few weeks.”
With the Maybird Centre on Birmingham Road continuing to lure trade away, next week a campaign is being launched to reinvigorate perception of the town centre as both a shopping and leisure destination among residents.
Stratforward Business Improvement District is mailing 40,000 households in the local area about their spring ‘Up On Style’ campaign, promoting fashion stores in the town like Gemini.
Stratforward director Chris Gregory thinks the public “has the potential to make Stratford thrive again.”
He also explained why this year’s footfall numbers—calculated by two pavement counters on either side of Bridge Street, outside Marks & Spencer and East—were so extreme: “A drop of 15 per cent year on year for February is an alarming statistic,” he said.
“The figures are, however, being compared to unnaturally high footfall figures from 2012 when February recorded a 19 per cent increase on the previous year.”
He said this peak was a result of tour operators channelling unusually high numbers of tourists into Stratford in the first half of 2012, eager to beat the Olympic rush later on in the year, and the higher prices of operating tours it brought with it.
And Chris, believes footfall might not be having such a direct effect on the town’s economy. “Over the essential Christmas trading period, footfall fell by around 11 per cent, but at the same time, independent research showed that retail sales rose by nearly four per cent,” he said. He believes more people does not necessarily mean more spending.
But the future looks brighter and an illuminating idea could see shoppers switch back to Stratford town centre as the year progresses and, with news this week, that a spectacular 3D light display worth £30,000 will wow visitors and shoppers in Henley Street by the end of the year, in time for the traditional Christmas shopping spree.
“The £30,000 will support the light display which is very futuristic and will promote Stratford on a national and international basis. Each display lasts five minutes, and will be beamed on to the Birthplace and include actors engaging with the public.
It is envisaged as a long-term project; the intention is to draw people to Stratford and keep them here throughout the seasons,” said Symon Powell from Bensons Tea Room, who is leading the Henley Street Trading Group in collaboration with the Birthplace Trust in managing the project.
‘Operation Footfall’ is aimed at town centre business groups to lead on and develop projects which encourage more people to shop and eat in the county’s town centres.
Other successful local applicants in this round of funding, include:
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