Bustling Bury St Edmunds has enjoyed another busy festive season, with the number of shoppers rushing to buy last-minute gifts matching last year’s record-breaking footfall.
The chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds said on Wednesday that the last few days of 2017 could see the town record its busiest year yet, with the clothing and food and drink sectors reporting strong trading.
Mark Cordell, who leads the Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID), said: “It is great to see that the increased footfall of the previous three years has been maintained this year.
“It has been a good festive season for many. I’ve just heard that Mr Simms sweet shop didn’t close until 7pm on Tuesday because it was so busy, Beautiful Beers has been taking a lot of online orders and St Edmunds Butchers only has four turkeys left. I think that gives a good indication of some businesses doing very well.
“Throughout the year we have had a number of new businesses open up in the town – 16 at the last count – and a number have gone, as that’s what happens.”
The number of empty business units in Bury St Edmunds is down on last year – with a vacancy rate of 4.8 per cent reported in St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s latest figures, against a national average of 9.3 per cent – but this was partly due to fewer shop units in the town following the closure of Cornhill Walk and the conversion of some businesses into residential properties.
“With the new year coming we have got challenges ahead,” said Mark. “With Argos moving out of the town centre, Palmers closing down and the old Betfred empty, we have three large premises vacant. We are limited on what we can do to get these units let, but we can continue to make Bury as vibrant and attractive as we can. I am confident those units will be filled, but it might take some time.”
The last trading day for Palmers, in Buttermarket, is January 20.
Mark also warned against being complacent.
“As the BID we tell our businesses that they need to change and develop and as a town we need to do the same,” he said, adding that council plans to improve the link between the old and new town centres following the purchase of the former Post Office were ‘positive’.
He said: “We are pressing the council to look at Market Thoroughfare. The old part of town is lovely and the arc is lovely, but that bit in between is horrible.”
He added that the announcement that Suffolk was one of 10 counties nationwide selected for a pilot Government scheme to retain 100 per cent of Business Rates was a ‘great opportunity for the county council to be more supportive and helpful’, particularly to the independent businesses in the town centre, where business rates were ‘extremely high’.