West Suffolk: Traders bouyed by festive boost

TRADERS in west Suffolk have reported healthy sales and a much-needed increase in customer footfall in the run up to Christmas.

And they’re hoping it will continue in the “crucial” remaining few days in a bid to help them maintain their businesses during difficult times while continuing to urge customers to shop local.

In Bury St Edmunds trade over the weekend was reported to be brisk on both Saturday and Sunday and a similar picture was also painted in Sudbury.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of the town centre business improvement group Bid4Bury, said the next few days were very “important” for traders.

“I know I have said it before but Bury is bucking the national trend and there are a lot of people about. For some this week could account for 25% of their annual profits so it is very important that we get the message out for people to shop local.

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“I’ve not had any of the businesses say to me that things are awful but we do need to keep things going.”

He was also encouraged by another empty shop unit set to be occupied as plans have now been submitted to St Edmundsbury Borough Council for the former Barclays Bank, in Abbeygate Street, which has been vacant for over a year, into a restaurant and cafe.

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It is in its early stages and there has been talk in the town that Jamie Oliver is set to move into the site but that was discounted Barry Woodhouse, from Bidwells, who are acting as agents for Barclays.

“No, it’s not Jamie Oliver,” he said. “But we are hoping that within the next six weeks planning consent will come through and we have no reason to think there will be any problems.

“It’s a prime restaurant pitch and everyone wants to see it occupied.”

Meanwhile, in St John’s Street, Sophie Parrin, sales advisor at Sunrise, which sells a host of items including gifts, homeware and clothing, said trade had picked up during December and Saturday was their best day to date.

“People do appear to be coming out to spend their money,” she said.

In The Traverse, Judy Young, who runs clothes fashion shop Paul Stephens Clothing with her husband Steve, said: “It’s started to build and we have had a good couple of weeks. It’s difficult for everyone in the current economic climate and people are watching their money but we are looking on the positive side of things.”

Nicola Sexton, who runs shoe boutique Sextons Shoes, in Abbeygate Street, was also upbeat.

Footfall during October and November was down for her but it had risen throughout December.

“We have had a much busier start to the month. I can’t put my finger on it but perhaps people have been holding back and saving up for Christmas and spending in December.”

In Sudbury, traders and the town’s chamber of commerce were praising the three-hour free parking scheme.

“That has helped us tremendously,” said Simon Barrett, the vice chairman of the chamber.

He also said that both Waitrose and the newly-opened Sainsbury’s store was helping to bring more people into Sudbury from the surrounding villages.

“They bring people into the town and the other businesses benefit from it. The free parking system is also a great help. We have to find ways to make sure we get people into Sudbury. We are holding our own and there’s a lot of positive things going on,” he added.

At Compact Music, in North Street, owner James Morgan said trade was very good with many people purchasing instruments as Christmas presents.

“The last 10 days have been on a par to what we would anticipate and things are bouyant. It is the busiest time of the year by far and the free parking has helped enormously as people from the outlying villages are coming to shop in Sudbury. It is hard work and we are in difficult times but it’s not all doom and gloom.”

Hazel Barnard, the buyer at department store Winch and Blatch also reported strong trading days.

“From now until the middle of January is the dream period for us and the free parking period does make a lot of difference,” she said.

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