Sign up to keep business booming

TRADERS could sign up for extra shopping hours or voucher schemes to keep business booming this Christmas.

The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade is consulting members about the ideas following requests for additional shopping opportunities from customers.

Vice Chairman Debbie Anderson said: “I have been approached by a couple of different people in the town who are asking if there is any chance of a full town late-night shopping evening in the run up to Christmas.

“We could put entertainment on in Bridge Street or Newgate Street to go with it.

“It does seem to work very well in Corbridge where they make it very festive so I’m asking if we could consider doing the same.”

Suggested dates for the event were December 15 or 22, but some shop owners were concerned that previous attempts at late opening have attracted little interest.

Jeweller Tony Osborne said: “Past experience of when we tried late night shopping in the run up to Christmas is that it has never worked. I would be willing to support something if it was put together, but it just never seems to draw people in.”

Chocolatier Lynn Oxley was also sceptical.

“We tried it in the arcade last year and it didn’t work for us. It was extremely quiet,” she said.

“I would also question the idea of entertainment. Do we want to pay out for that level of entertainment and also entertainment for the Christmas lights switch-on?”

Consultant and computer software expert Charles Sellers suggested a voucher scheme could be more of a draw.

“The interest in our house is always when there is a commercial incentive for shopping,” he said.

“Entertainment is all well and good, but if we could come up with some sort of voucher scheme it would encourage people to come into the town during that late-night opening.

“The like of Debenhams do this all the time. Our small retail shops are not Debenhams, but they could do it on a smaller scale.”

Florist Cynthia Fair supported the idea of vouchers, but said Sunday shopping may work better than late-night opening.

“Last year we tried in Newgate Street to stay open late, but the weather was horrendous. When that happens staff want to go home and it has to be a consideration.

“A better idea might be to concentrate on Sunday opening before Christmas,” she said.

“A lot of people who live in Morpeth don’t necessarily shop in Morpeth, especially if they are coming home from work late. If we stayed open until 7pm a lot of people would still be on the road. The length of time we stayed open wouldn’t be enough for them to go home and come back to the shops.”

However, Alnwick trader Geoff Proudlock said late-night opening can work.

He said: “From an Alnwick trader’s point of view we have done it for the last five years and it can be done at very little cost provided that independents are willing to do it themselves.

“We give our customers the chance to come in and have a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. The cost is virtually nothing.

“If you do it properly you will soon get quite busy. That is what we find. We only stay open for an extra two hours, but it seems to work.”

The chamber will discuss the ideas further to establish if there is any support.

Chairman John Beynon said: Let’s not dismiss the idea of late-night shopping because it hasn’t worked before. Let’s have a fresh look at it.”