After a Merry Christmas, Armagh's traders look forward to happy New Year

Niall Crozier

Reporter:

Niall Crozier

Email:

niall.crozier@ulstergazette.co.uk

ARMAGH traders, who had a happy Christmas, are now looking forward to a prosperous 2020.

A delighted Art O’Hagan, chairman of the Armagh City Centre Management Group, told The Gazette, “Trade over the Christmas period was up on the previous year [2018].

“Traders in general are happier, not least because business was spread over the whole period from the switch-on of the lights {Georgian Day, Saturday, November 30] right through to Christmas Eve.”

The way the 2019 calendar fell undoubtedly played a part, with the ACCMG chair acknowledging that by saying, “With Christmas Day falling on the Wednesday, they had the benefit of a week-long run-up which included a full weekend in the middle of it.”

And he saw further cause for optimism in evidence of local traders’ success in their on-going battle against the ever-encroaching threat posed by online shopping.

Asked if he could explain the reason for the improvement in the most recent figures compared with those of the previous year, he replied, “I think people maybe want to shop at home more.

“They do their online shopping earlier in the month [of December] and then in the last 10 days they do their shopping at home.”

With the increase in online shopping now an established fact of modern-day retail life, traders are having to cope. But amidst concern for the future of high street shops in cities and towns the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, Mr O’Hagan sees Armagh as providing welcome proof that the situation is far from beyond redemption.

“I think what we’re seeing here is a concentrated effort from the traders,” was his reply when asked what Armagh businesses are doing to safeguard their futures.

“There’s a togetherness; that has been the main focus here.

“It’s all about keeping the traders on the same page, with one focus and a common objective. Provided we continue to do those things, I think we’ll be okay. At this stage, it’s all very good; from what I’ve heard, nobody has had any major complaints.”

Asked if he was confident about the future of city centre shopping he said, “Yes; I’m an optimist by nature, so I’m looking forward to 2020.”

Another of the matters he hopes to see addressed is the thorny issue of city centre parking charges. These, coupled with the rigid enforcement of the parking laws and the costly penalties imposed on anyone guilty of breaking them, have presented problems in recent years.

In repeated vox pops, parking charges and harassment by traffic wardens have been cited as factors which deter potential customers from town centre shopping.

But here, too, Mr O’Hagan offered some prospect of change when he told The Gazette, “There’s a review taking place this month and parking is one of the things we’ll be looking at. Effectively this is an overview of 2020 and where we’re trying to go.”

Meanwhile, nationwide figures concerning the state of play in UK town centres reveal that most successful businesses to have opened in the past two years are convenience stores, coffee shops, beauty and nail salons, restaurants/bars, barbers, vape shops, healing/treatment outlets, takeaways, cafes and tattoo parlours.

In contrast, those in marked decline include shops offering fashion/clothing, music/games/DVDs, shoes, confectionery/news, cards/gifts, antiques, books, flooring and household goods.

In addition, bookmakers’ shops been closing at an unprecedented rate owing to the advent of online betting and 24-hour casinos.

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