“A SUPER Christmas.”
That's how Art O'Hagan, the Chair of Armagh City Centre Management, described things as having been in the 2021 festive season retail sector.
However, Omicron – the latest manifestation of Covid – is now creating problems for local traders, a number of whom are having to soldier on, in some cases without upwards of 30 per cent of their employees who have been laid low by this particularly infectious strain.
Mr O'Hagan told the Gazette, “Retail has had an excellent Christmas, a really bumper one.
“The £100 'Shop Locally' voucher scheme was a great success, so the feedback overall is that traders did well, although they really needed a good Christmas in view of the way things were earlier in the year.”
Highlighting the reason for the much-needed upturn in business in December '21 he added, “The success of the voucher scheme was that it had to be spent in shops rather than online. Having that extra £100 enabled people to get out and spend 'free money' they wouldn't otherwise have had - and local shops are happy to have benefited as a result.”
But, on the down side, he confirmed that the start to 2022 “has been difficult, with 20 or 30 per cent of staff down with Covid in some cases”.
Asked how the businesses affected manage to cope in a situation like that, he replied, “Self-employed people have a stoical approach, so they just get on with it as best they can.
“Now, that's very difficult if you've only got three or four staff and one or two of them are off with Covid. Obviously that creates a real problem for a small business – and Armagh has plenty of those.
“On a pro rata basis, a third of three is very different to a third of 100,” he said, “so it's not easy trying to manage a business with a small number of staff when something like this comes along.
“Nobody is quite sure how long this level of infection is likely to last, so we're just going to have to wait and see how things go in the next few days and weeks. Meanwhile, those traders who are worst affected will continue trying to keep going. Realistically, what else can they do?”