TRADERS across the Herald and Gazette patch have reacted cautiously to news that retail sales across the UK last month saw the largest annual rise for ten years.
The Office for National Statistics figures, released last Wednesday, revealed encouraging growth of 6.9 per cent for April, compared with the same period last year, with a 1.3 per cent rise on previous month’s trade.
In Worthing, town centre manager Sharon Clarke believes businesses are positive, with many posting strong performances echoing the national trend.
But caution is the word in Littlehampton, as traders reported a mixed picture.
Mrs Clarke said: “The businesses are feeling positive and the reduction in multi-storey car parking charges has led to an optimistic outlook from the traders.
“It is very difficult to get percentage changes from stores locally as most are not allowed to share that data, so what we do is ask businesses if they have performed better, worse of the same than the same month the previous year.
“In April, 68% of businesses showed an increase in sales which is very positive and some businesses are experiencing double digit growth.”
Footfall in the town centre increased in April by two per cent compared to last year, coinciding with the reduced car parking charges following the end of the NCP contract.
Mrs Clarke, however, was hesitant to claim the increase was down to the new prices, stating there were a range of factors, including the weather, which affected footfall.
Vacancy rates were also a cause for optimism at just below eight per cent, while another 11 shops were being refurbished ready for opening.
Portland Road, as reported in the Herald last week, has been boosted by the news of four new businesses opening and hopes of a project to part-pedestrianise the road to increase footfall.
Mrs Clarke added: “Beales are heavily investing into the store with a new climate control unit being installed helping to improve the customer experience and Greggs have invested in a new look for its Chapel Road store.
“This investment shows that businesses are feeling positive about Worthing and their future in trading in the town.”
Mrs Clarke’s Littlehampton counterpart, Mr Edjvet, suggested there was ‘more optimism’ from traders.
He said: “On an anecdotal level, there does seem more optimism out there. But it is a mixed picture.
“Some businesses are doing very well and others still feeling the effects of the recession.
“In speaking to traders, I know that many are not taking a recovery for granted and there is still work to be done to promote business and support the town centre’s retail offer.”
Mr Edjvet added he was working closely with the Littlehampton Traders’ Partnership to promote the retail offer of the town, which has a ‘healthy mix’ of national and independent brands.
The ONS figures indicated quarterly retail sales had grown consecutively for 14 months, with the rise in food sales experiencing a particularly high growth – the largest since January 2002 at 6.5 per cent compared with last year.
Petrol stations were the only stores not to experience a year-on-year increase in sales volumes.