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Monday, 25 May 2015

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Tynedale: Towns wring the most out of Christmas shopping

THE New Year has been well and truly rung in. Balding trees have been relegated to backyards and seas of shining wrapping paper scrunched into recycling bins.

With 2014 stretching ahead, retailers are taking stock of any rewards from the flurry of activities that featured in Tynedale’s biggest centres in the run-up to Christmas.

In the face of economic uncertainty and competition from out-of-town shopping centres, Hexham, Corbridge and Haltwhistle upped the ante in the battle to secure all-important festive profits.

But what effect did these events have and are there lessons to be learned to encourage Christmas trade in years to come?

The late-night shopping event in Corbridge in early December is a fixture on the local calendar. It has gained in popularity since its launch over 30 years ago and this year’s event proved no exception.

Corbridge trader and chairman of the village business and visitor network, Joyce Anderson, said: “It went very well. Everybody was very pleased and the weather was kind to us.

“The late night shopping event is a good tradition for Corbridge and I think most other traders would think the same as well.

“In the run-up to Christmas it was busy all the time. People were coming here from all over.”

While Corbridge relied on a tried and tested formula, Hexham tried to seize on the potential kickstart provided by the BBC Children In Need event, to pull together the town’s Countdown to Christmas campaign.

There was a skating rink on the Sele, a visit from Santa Claus and a beefed up Christmas Market, which attracted an estimated 5,000 people on December 14.

Lorraine Reay, of Hexham Community Partnership, which helped put together the Countdown to Christmas programme, said: “The Christmas Market was really good, despite the fact we had to close early because of bad weather.

“We got positive feedback from the traders who came for the day and also from independent traders within Hexham town centre.”

Among the independents, parking obviously remains a contentious issues, with some doubting the wisdom of closing the Market Place and Beaumont Street to traffic for major events, removing scores of town centre parking spaces in the process.

Gail List, of Petals on Market Street, said: “While the events have been great, I don’t think some of the venues were a good idea.

“They took car parking away from the main centre of the town. There were a lot of events in the run-up to Christmas, but I don’t think the venues were well thought through.

“Father Christmas’s grotto, for example, could have put on the Sele, turning the whole area into a Winter Wonderland scene.

“I just feel that the organisation needs a bit of fine tuning.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Janine Armstrong who, alongside her husband, owns and runs jewellers Ashley Matthews.

She said: “The Christmas Market event generally brings in shoppers, so that was a good day. But I think there were far too many that would have been better placed elsewhere.

“The Market Place was closed to vehicles on too many Saturdays. It stops people from parking and coming to the shops.

“On numerous weekends we’ve taken less than half of what we should have.

“I’m not saying these things should be stopped. I think they should consider where they put them next time.

“I also think we need more shopping events. And we need to ensure it also includes the likes of Market Street and Back Street.

“Because at the moment the only people that get anything out of these activities are Fore Street and the big shops at the bottom.”

She insisted competition from other areas remains a challenge for Hexham.

“Business has been up and down this Christmas. We can tell when there’s something going on in the neighbouring towns because the footfall isn’t there on that particular day.

“Overall, I think it’s been better than usual but I’ve been disappointed with the car parking issues”.

In Haltwhistle the annual late night shopping event on November 29 signalled the start of Christmas in the community.

Chairman of Haltwhistle Chamber of Trade, Cathering Davidson, said: “The late night shopping event went very well. I think everybody was pleased with it. It’s a great social occasion as well as helping the shops.

“Small places like this have a struggle to survive against the big shopping centres. We put on the late night shopping event and provide the Christmas lights. We just need people to support us, even if it’s only by buying a loaf of bread.

“At the end of the day everybody has the right to shop where they like and we can’t tell people where to go.

“But we have a street full of shops. There’s more than most places our size. We do our best for a small town.”