Norwich retailers rise to big economic challenge
With multi-million pound investments, new stores and eateries opening, and once again being named a top 10 UK retail destination, it has been a pretty successful 2011 for Norwich, despite the economic downturn.
The recent news of some well-known national chains going into administration highlights just how difficult times are for shops, but in Norwich, retailers are currently reporting a positive sales season and their general view is that while times are hard, they are determined to rise to the challenge.
Retailers are cautious about the next 12 months, but optimistic that by staying competitive and helping to boost Norwich's profile, they can help the city have a good 2012.
Stefan Gurney, Norwich City Centre Partnership manager, said: 'It has been a tough year and obviously it is reflected in the economic climate, but Norwich has managed to maintain its position as ninth in the top 10 retail destinations in the country.'
He said Norwich held its own alongside much larger metropolitan cities because of its diverse and unique offering – something the Evening News is keen to promote with our Love Local campaign. 'Norwich has got the two shopping centres, the big multinational department stores, its independent department store, and a very vibrant independent element,' he said.
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'We saw a lot of additions and investment in 2011.
'There were multi-million pound investments at John Lewis and Marks and Spencer – at a time when people are battening down the hatches at national level – so that was good for the city.'
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Mr Gurney said it was vital that businesses work together to promote Norwich and encouraged them to join a business improvement district (BID). He said it would give businesses a greater say over improvements they would like to see in the city that will help them trade and grow, and could help fortify the city against tough economic times.
He said: 'Norwich is strong, but it is a tough climate. It is a difficult retail market out there and I think that will continue into next year.
'I hope the city's added value and unique offerings will allow it to continue to trade well and hopefully Norwich will climb up the rankings. Our goal is to try to overtake Brighton in eighth place.'
Peter Mitchell, managing director at Jarrold described 2011 as being a 'rollercoaster'.
He said: 'It has been quite a tough year. We went into 2011 expecting the second half to be better than the first half and actually the autumn proved to be quite challenging. However, as we got into December and Christmas it got consistently better. It has been quite a rollercoaster.'
Mr Mitchell said he thought concerns about the economic climate was one of the reasons shoppers were being cautious in their spending, and said he hoped to see a little bit more stability in 2012.
He said he felt there would be more of a trend of people wanting to reconnect to their roots and buy local products which would be good for Norfolk, and spoke of the need for businesses to step-up and do more to promote Norwich.
Roger Pemberton, of Norwich Lanes, said the area was proud to play its part in keeping Norwich unique and was pleased to have featured in an article in The Guardian about the UK's hidden shopping havens.
He said: 'We all know the high street is a really difficult place at the moment, but in the Lanes 2011 was a pretty vibrant year. There were a number of new shops coming to the Lanes and other shops moving. We have got the variety, the originality, and we are urging people to keep supporting us.'
Some of the big national chains also put significant investment into Norwich.
John Lewis' �7m project saw the All Saints Green store completely refurbished with bigger departments and the upgrading of many facilities.
Robert Hallam, the store's managing director, said: 'It has been an exciting year for us. To have such significant investment in the business at a time when many others might be thinking about avoiding significant costs was fantastic.
'It underlines our long-term commitment to this city.
'Into 2012, everything we read would say we have to be realistic, that it is going to be a tough year. That said, people will still need to make purchases.'
Andy Barber, manager of Norwich's Marks and Spencer, said: 'Without doubt, 2011 was a fantastic year. We finished the development and this is the best performing Marks and Spencer store in the whole country against similar sized stores, which is great.'
He said that in 2012 customers would see a consolidation of the new development and a greater range of products.
Sheridan Smith, Chapelfield's marketing manager, said: 'Chapelfield had a successful 2011.
'We feel that because we have had some key new stores and restaurants opening, the whole offer that we can give to customers has improved. People always want something new and we want to give that to them.'
An H&M children's store and the restaurants Carluccio's, Ask Italian, and Yo! Sushi are among Chapelfield's latest additions.
Mrs Smith said Chapelfield is in talks with two retailers about opening branches in the centre, and both would be new to Norwich.
At The Mall Norwich, marketing manager Victoria Merrison said: 'All in all, 2011 has been quite a good year for us. Our footfall is on a par with the year before.
'The retailers have traded quite well, especially at Christmas, and I think 2012 will probably be similar to 2011.'
Mrs Merrison said The Mall was in talks with other stores about coming to the centre.
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