‘Shop local’ Essex residents urged in final run-up to Christmas

Colchester lights switch on.

Colchester lights switch on. - Credit: Gregg Brown

With just one week left until Christmas shoppers looking for those last-minute gifts – or trying to buy everything – are being urged to use their local stores.

With just one week left until Christmas shoppers looking for those last-minute gifts – or trying to buy everything – are being urged to use their local stores.

Traders in Colchester have already been enjoying a busy festive period according to initial figures.

Footfall data from Lion Walk Shopping Centre shows 290,000 people passed through in the week leading up to November 29 – a number which jumped to 415,000 the week of the Christmas light switch-on in the town centre, and 425,000 the week after that.

Peter Scopes, centre manager and one of the Colchester Town Team, said the increase was surprising and continuing to rise, with a bumper week expected as pay-day also arrives.

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“This is my first year in Colchester and there has been a dramatic improvement in the co-operation between the main stakeholders who want to see the town survive and thrive, from Fenwicks to Lion Walk and Culver Square, to the Colchester Retail/Business Association and the borough council,” he said.

“We have got to make Colchester town centre a place people want to be and experience. Together we can do that.

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“We saw that with the light switch-on, and the expressions on people’s faces meant we just know it is working.

“You can’t beat going out in the cold all wrapped up with Christmas lights and the smell of chestnuts in the air. We don’t just sell gifts we sell a great experience.”

Colchester has late-night shopping on Wednesdays, with the last event this week on December 23 – though many stores will be open late each day this week in the run-up to Christmas Eve.

Parking is free of charge after 3pm in council-run town centre car parks on Wednesday.

“This really is the last chance for Santa to fill up his sleigh and I expect to see some frantic people with sweating brows,” added Mr Scopes.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere.

“Colchester has some big brand stores, and walking through the new handbag section at Williams & Griffin you could easily be on Oxford Street – but at the same time we have great independents like Minerva who have the best chocolate truffles outside of Belgium in my opinion.

“A lot of people talk about the internet versus the high street, and many smaller stores will now have an online presence. But what you can never beat walking into a little store and picking up something you just won’t find anywhere else, those unique things big brand stores won’t have.

“The marketplace has changed by the patterns we are seeing is that people will go online or into large retailers to check the price, but will then visit independents. The internet has not become an alternative, but it is as if people are standing on the street with an e-tailer one side and an independent on the other.

“Having to return things, especially clothes, to an online store is always a hassle no matter how easy they make it.”

‘Unique mixture’ of shops in Tendring

Tendring offers a great mixture of unique shops, according to district council leader Neil Stock.

Mr Stock said Clacton had one of the highest occupancy rates of any Essex town centre and was a real success story.

But he also pointed out the great range of shops on offer at other town centres in the district, including Dovercourt, Manningtree and Brightlingsea.

“There are shops you just won’t find anywhere else in the country,” Mr Stock said.

“People get bored of going to Colchester, Chelmsford or Ipswich and seeing the same town centre.

“In all of these places, from Dovercourt to Manningtree to Brightlingsea, there are fantastic shops, pubs and restaurants with a really friendly welcome which gives a much more stress-free way of doing your shopping – high streets can be an intimidating and intense place at this time of year.

“These shop keepers can talk to you about their products, tailor them, and they are made with passion you just don’t get in larger stores.

“And we can compete. Connaught Avenue in Frinton used to boast it was the Bond Street of East Anglia, and you can park right on it – if you can get a space.

“Our district has a unique mixture that other districts don’t have.”

District residents can also park for free at council-run car parks under the authority’s flagship scheme, providing another reason for people in Tendring to “shop local”.

“The scheme has been widely popular with shop keepers,” Mr Stock added.

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