‘Don’t forget us,’ plead traders as survey shows Northumberland shoppers staying away from town centres

Footfall has dropped in town centres and shopping habits have changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 11:09 am
Updated Thursday, 15th October 2020, 11:09 am

That is the view of local traders and one backed up by the results of a recent Big Conversation survey run across all JPIMedia titles.

The survey results from Northumberland indicate that 80% of people are visiting their local town centre less than they did previously.

More than a third (37.87%) say they are visiting a lot less, with 29.44% visiting less often while 13.55% haven’t visited at all.

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Alnwick traders Fiona Nelson-van Loon, Mark Turnbull and Lisa Aynsley.

Lisa Aynsley, chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade and owner of menswear shop Hotspur 1364, believes the influx of tourists over the summer helped to mask some of the changes.

She said: “When the shops reopened in mid-June there was great local support but there aren’t enough local residents to maintain that momentum.

"The tourists arrived through the summer which was wonderful and footfall at that point was awesome but the most recent lockdown restrictions have really had an impact.

"Obviously that has coincided with the end of the summer season but the town centre has been decimated in recent weeks. There’s been a massive difference and it’s a concern with the winter ahead.”

Alnwick Market after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Butcher Mark Turnbull is in the unique position of having shops in Alnwick town centre and on the Willowburn Retail Park.

He said: “It’s been a real rollercoaster.

"There was a massive drop-off in trade in the town centre during lockdown whereas the food hall stayed fairly busy with kerbside pick-ups.

"Both businesses took off as everything opened up in the summer but I’m 99% sure that local trade has diminished on what it was before lockdown.

Lisa Aynsley, chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade.

"Since the schools went back and tourist trade dropped the number of customers has fallen.”

The survey findings also indicate that 59.56% of people were not comfortable or not at all comfortable going to shops or libraries, although more than 71.1% felt comfortable or very comfortable about visited a hairdresser, barber or beautician.

Fiona Nelson-van Loon, who runs Ruby Tuesday in Alnwick, noted: “It seems from the survey that there is an inherent desire to support local businesses, yet at the same time people saying they are coming into their towns less and shopping online more.

"I think that's probably reflected in what I have seen. There is never a set pattern to trade but in recent weeks it has certainly taken a downturn. Footfall is most definitely down and I sense a certain amount of uncertainty.

Fiona Nelson-van Loon at Ruby Tuesday in Alnwick.

"Customers are shopping early for the festive season, telling me they are picking things up as they see them - unsure as to what we may or may not be able to do come Christmas.

She added: "All we can do is to continue to offer as safe an environment as possible for shoppers to feel comfortable in.

"As a community I believe it is important to continue to support one another, recognising that some people are still very frightened, being respectful of personal views yet at the same time trying as best we can, together, to support our town.

"We are made of tough stuff round here and I don't know of any local business who isn't doing their utmost, so I think the message is to keep on supporting each other...don't forget us!”

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Alnwick butcher Mark Turnbull.

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