Business Improvement District chief Mark Cordell says Christmas was not a 'disaster' for Bury St Edmunds shops
Retailers in Bury St Edmunds did not suffer a ‘disastrous’ Christmas despite their challenges, according to an insider.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of the town’s Business Improvement District, gave a balanced assessment following reports UK high streets suffered their worst festive period in a decade.
“Nobody has told me this is the worst Christmas ever, but I am not naive enough to say things are rosy,” he said.
“In general terms it has been a difficult time for national companies. Although I know a number of branches performed well (here) when compared to (other towns).
“It now appears that the relative peak for our town centre was 2016 - for sales and footfall. We are now at the level of 2013 or 14.
“With any figures it is unrealistic (for them to keep rising) as the market goes through peaks and troughs.
“What is really pleasing is the number of our independent businesses remains very high, that is our unique selling point.
“It is a rarity for anyone to cease trading. We need to continue to make people aware of what is good and available.
Figures showed a net five shops closed in Bury from November 2017 to November 2018.
Most recent data shows the town has a 5.9 per cent vacancy rate, which equates to 29 out of 500 shops standing empty.
“High street firms are finding it hard in general" - Sarah Wightman
Sarah Wightman, owner of Revel Outdoors, said: “Given the spring and summer are the busy times for us, Christmas was not too bad.
“We had an all right period, it was about average, which I know is not what other shops are saying.
“High street firms are finding it hard in general and January has been quiet.”
Across the UK, total retail sales showed a 0 per cent year-on-year growth during December.
Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, both staples of Bury’s town centre, were among chains to see a fall in sales.
Mr Cordell added: “I think independent shops are at the advantage of being able to quickly adapt to market trends. I see them as a jet ski to the oil tanker of chains.”