Festive shoppers get tills jingling

SHOPPERS in East Anglia seem to have been spending as much as ever in the run-up to Christmas, according to stores.Town centres have enjoyed another successful festive period, with many shops saying they have been boosted by a last-minute rush this week.

SHOPPERS in East Anglia seem to have been spending as much as ever in the run-up to Christmas, according to stores.

Town centres have enjoyed another successful festive period, with many shops saying they have been boosted by a last-minute rush this week.

Phil Jones, store manager for Marks and Spencer in Bury St Edmunds, predicted an improved festive period for the business.

“I think if you take the months of November and December, we have improved on last year. We have had two money-off events, which have really helped. We also feel trade has been particular buoyant in the town overall,” he said.

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This was a feeling shared by Nick Martin, St Edmundsbury Borough Council's head of economic development, who felt trade in Bury St Edmunds had been helped by the town's Christmas Fair.

“I have talked to several people throughout the town and they have all said they have done well. This was particularly accelerated by the fair when people told me they have had their best trade ever,” he said.

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“Since then, the general consensus is that shops have not been besieged – but nevertheless it has been fairly steady.”

A similar success story has been reported in Sudbury, where Joy Rathbone, owner of gift shop Penny Farthing, is one of many to have enjoyed a good build-up to the big day.

“This will be my fourth Christmas in the shop and this year it seemed as though people started spending much later than they usually do,” she said.

“Trade was slow to start with and I think people were concerned about the amount of money they were spending, but business began to pick up at the beginning of November and we have been very busy in the shop over the last two months.”

Derek Ashbee, of Culver Square Shopping Centre in Colchester, said the widespread number of high street sales was having an impact on business.

“There are a lot of people shopping, but some of them seem to be very cautious because they don't want to buy something now and find it at half price before even Christmas Day,” he added.

A spokeswoman for High Chelmer Shopping Centre in Chelmsford said: “The impression I have been getting is that things have been a bit slow for many retailers at Christmas, but overall most shops are posting like for like figures as compared to last year.”

Freeport Shopping Centre in Braintree said its shops were full of activity at Christmas and appeared to be bucking the national trend.

A spokeswoman added: “We are incredibly busy. It has gradually got quieter during the week, but the shops are still absolutely heaving.”

At Hicks BV electrical shop in Stowmarket, director Toby Hicks reported brisk trading as people came in in good numbers during the festive period.

“We are busy, but then we expect to be,” said Mr Hicks.

Philip Reeve, manager of Taylor's Electrical shop in Halesworth, said trade had been better than last year.

“We've found it to be very good and there has been a definite increase in business this year. People have been coming in from further afield like Great Yarmouth and Saxmundham saying they've been into the cities but could not park or were not getting served correctly,” he added.

Cheryl Paget, Lowestoft town manager, added: “Lowestoft has done quite well. Traders were worried that the Waveney Sunrise Scheme regeneration work in town would impact on sales, but people have been more put off going into Norwich because of the parking problems.”

But Southwold has been quiet, according to Dudley Clarke, spokesman for the area's chamber of trade and commerce.

“It has been very quiet this week, but I think the clothes and jewellery shops have been having a good time. People are spending money here, but we just haven't had the crowds,” he said.

Colin Roberts, centre manager for the Buttermarket Shopping Centre in Ipswich, said: “It's not going to be a record-breaking Christmas, but no-one was really expecting it to be.

“The good thing is that we have an extra day of trading because Christmas Day is on a Saturday so we are confident that the figures will show that we are on a definite up.

Chris Gowing, from the town's Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre, added: “We have been very busy. There were a lot of people out and about wanting to shop. The malls have been absolutely heaving.”

But there was a warning about the public getting into debt by overspending at Christmas.

Seymour Fortescue, chief executive of the Banking Code Standards Board, said: “We all have a tendency to overspend around this time of year and pretty soon we'll have to face up to reality.

“It is vital that people open their statements and bills and deal with them rather than give in to the temptation to put them in a drawer and forget about them.”

Ian Burnett, bureau manager at Ipswich Citizens Advice Bureau, added: “Our money advice team keeps busy all year round and a lot of it is exacerbated by Christmas spending on presents and things.

“It's a perennial, not decreasing problem. People are juggling around various shop and credit cards, trying to keep their finances in order, but they're not doing proper calculations – and may not even know how to.”

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