"I have never known the town centre so quiet" - Struggling traders urge return to high street

  Posted: 14.05.21 at 19:28 by Alex Jones

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Penarth traders have expressed grave concern over the reluctance of residents to return to the high street amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Many shop owners say emerging from this lockdown sorely lacks the sense of solidarity and commitment to shopping local that they experienced in the summer.

They urge shoppers to get out and give their socially distanced support to local businesses if they feel safe to do so.

Where is everybody?

Angelina Hall, owner of Glass by Design on Station approach and chair of Penarth Business Group, alerted Nub News to the situation.

"We were all so excited to open our doors again in April, with the chance to show off refurbished shops, new stock and have a friendly chat," she said. "I have never known the town centre so quiet, with such low footfall over the last month."

Sandra James in an empty Artisans Corner

The vast majority of local retailers we spoke to today - from gift shops and children's clothing providers to florists and jewellers - gave similar testimonies.

"Footfall has been a lot less," said Sandra James of Artisans Corner. "We’re incredibly grateful for our local supporters, and people have been out, but it’s generally a lot lower than last time for whatever reason.

“We’ve had days where we’ve only had one sale. Last time was a slow and steady stream but we’d be getting at least a dozen people in the shop on a given day. At the moment, we’re lucky if we get half that. On some days, we’ve had no one in at all."

"Initially, there was a sense of people dashing out excitedly after lockdown and curiously browsing," added Petra Aydin Barberini of Rowley's Jewellers.

"There was a bit of spontaneously treating themselves but mostly they are looking for bargains. However, once the weather changed a little bit the footfall fell dramatically.

Petra Barberini from Rowley's Jewellers (right)

"Whilst many customers seem delighted to see that small family businesses have survived the lockdown, they don’t seem to realise the true impact on mental health.

"Family run businesses have been particularly vulnerable, experiencing the pressure of stopping and starting businesses for a year. It will be very hard for non-essential shops cafes and restaurants to ever fully recover particularly from the Christmas closure."

Not everyone is struggling

In spite of low high street footfall, some shops have enjoyed a relatively busy return to trading. Both we spoke to, however, gave very specific reasons why.

“It was busy for the first couple of weeks with the kids coming back," said Tori, assistant manager of the footwear retailer Ogam Igam.

Tori from Ogam Igam

“They’re desperate for school shoes as they’re still in their winter boots and in need of something else. I feel like we’ve been busy with it. It will be interesting to see what it’s like after the rush back."

Ty Hafan, the Stanwell Road charity shop, was positively bustling at midday.

"Straight after lockdown we were inundated, both with customers and donors," said shop manager Danielle Court.

"It’s quietened down a little bit but I think Ty Hafan donors and customers are really loyal, so we’re never short of customers. But we’ve definitely seen less people on the high street.”

The local hospitality sector appears to have also made a reasonable recovery. Bars and restaurants with outdoor areas are often fully booked despite temperamental weather.

Danielle Court, manager of Ty Hafan

Those able to utilise the newly installed parklets have been particularly successful.

"It's been double what we expected," said Matt Holland, co-owner of Willmore's 1938 cafe, which was jam-packed at 1pm. "The parklets have been amazing and we just hope they start to attract shoppers to other places as well."

"Please keep supporting your local high street"

But besides these exceptions, concern is widely felt. Those who are struggling say it is within the power of shoppers to save the high street.

"We try to be swanlike on the surface while paddling like crazy," continued Petra. "These days, I’m afraid we’re only human and not feeling very swanlike. Even if you’re not intending to buy something, check up on your independent traders. They’re trying very hard to put on a brave face. They could do with your support."

"We ask our locals to come and discover your town again, support your local shops and learn to enjoy shopping and browsing again," urges the Penarth Business Group.

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