Swanage retailers’ dismay at lack of Christmas shoppers

Shopkeepers in Swanage are reporting a dramatic reduction in the number of shoppers in the run up to Christmas – usually one of the busiest times of the year – leading to fears some could even struggle to survive.

In a pattern repeated across the country, Geoff Clarke, from Leonard’s of Swanage, said:

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“It’s been quiet all week. We only had three customers come in all morning.

“People are wandering around, but it’s to get some fresh air – they’re not doing much shopping. The town is dead.”

Christmas lights in Institute Road 2020

Streets are not as busy as usual

Impact of Covid

It seems that reports of rising cases of Covid and fears of another government lockdown have led many to scale back Christmas plans, while others, worried about getting ill, have opted to stay at home rather than go out.

The traditional browsing for Christmas presents has been swapped for online purchases. There’s also evidence that concerns about a possible shortage of goods in the autumn, led many to shop early and not leave it to December.

@sixtyone
Geoff Hunt

Homeware store @sixtyone – owned by Geoff and Polly Hunt – has seen far fewer shoppers this year

“The town is dead”

Geoff Hunt, of @sixtyone homeware store, said:

“Sales are really down. Christmas last year was probably 30 percent down on pre-Covid, but I would say this Christmas we are 40 to 50 percent down on last year.

“The town is dead. People who came from other places are staying away. They say they can never guarantee the ferry will run, for instance, and they’re going online or to the bigger towns to buy their stuff.”

Christmas light switch on in Swanage 2021

Many people are staying at home this Christmas and shopping online

“It feels very odd”

Teresa Robertson, shop assistant at Amber Bay, and one of the Artisans on the Beach selling her own jewellery, said:

“There’s just not the number of people you would normally expect. It feels very odd. It’s a strange time for us all.”

Candleworld
Candleworld

Candleworld with its abundance of Christmas decorations has seen ‘good sales’

“Get into the festive spirit”

But others report more healthy trading. Carol Cook, owner of Candleworld, said:

“Christmas sales have been good. Despite everything that’s going on, a lot of people really want to get into the festive spirit.”

Liam Searle, who aims to move the post office into the old Betfred shop in Institute Road in 2022, has launched the pop-up Emma’s Christmas shop in the meantime.

He said:

“There was a gap in the market for cheaper Christmas things and it’s been going really well.”

Liam Searle outside old Betfred shop

Pop-up Christmas shop on Institute Road

Mr Christmas

Ian Messinger, known to many locals as ‘Mr Christmas’, runs the Herston Yard farm shop.

He said:

“I’ve been quite busy. I would say it’s a bit up on last year in terms of shoppers and sales.”

Ian Messinger
Ian Messinger

Ian Messinger and his popular Christmas shop at Herston Yard

“Stock left over”

Lenctenbury Farm, near Corfe Castle, sold out of cut Christmas trees, but Norden Farm shop has plenty of leftovers.

Ben Barton, a partner at Norden Farm shop, said:

“It certainly has quietened down. We’re going to have quite a lot of stock left over. It is roughly the same as last year but we were sold out then, so this year we’ve over ordered.”

But there’s a silver lining for the twelve goats who live on site – they love Christmas trees – to eat.

Andrew Carlyle
Ben Barton
Kim Mullings

Top: Andrew Caryle of Lectenbury Farm; Middle: Ben Barton, Norden Farm; Bottom: Kim Mullings, 32 years at Norden Farm

“It’s going to have a big effect”

Like many retailers, Geoff Clarke of Leonard’s gift shop in Institute Road, has experienced problems with the supply chain, with long waits for items to be delivered to the shop.

He added:

“Because of this new variant people are staying indoors and doing any emergency present buying online. They’re just not coming in. It’s tragic.

“I can understand people being frightened but at the same time you’ve got to live your life.

“It’s going to have a big effect on local traders, especially in a place like Swanage where we have a very high percentage of independent traders. I think it will be breaking point for some places. It’s quite sad.”

Rotary Swanage Christmas Market 2021

Events like the Christmas market were organised to boost trade

Coping with staff sickness

As well as out of town shoppers staying away, there isn’t the usual influx of holidaymakers, as people cancel holiday plans.

Geoff Hunt of @sixtyone, like many business owners, has had to cope with staff absences too.

A staff member whose children tested positive for Covid had to self-isolate for ten days and on the ninth day tested positive herself and so began another ten days of isolation. She won’t be back until after Christmas.

Geoff said:

“We haven’t even had time to do our own Christmas shopping.

@sixtyone
Geoff Hunt

Business is down by up to 50 per cent

“Scaled back Christmas plans”

Geoff said:

“From what I can see, I would say people have scaled back Christmas plans and that really affects retail. It’s going to create big issues going forward.

“The streets are empty and that’s not normal. It’s the same with cafes – if there aren’t people out having a coffee to warm up, they’re not walking around the streets spending money in the shops.

“Last Saturday, the last one before Christmas, was one of the worst Saturdays since May last year. You see them on the TV doing their Christmas shopping and you find yourself saying where are they? – they’re not here.”

Swanage Baptist Church

Swanage Baptist Church has a memory tree and nativity poster

“Bracing themselves”

Caroline Finch, chair of Swanage Chamber of Trade, said:

“Most of the businesses are now bracing themselves due to the uncertainty.” 

The hospitality sector is particularly badly affected as cancellations start to come in and managers struggle to fill staff rotas.

Caroline Finch
Caroline Finch

Caroline Finch, chairperson of Swanage Chamber of Trade

“Unprecedented times”

Several businesses have closed over the last six months due to the fallout from Covid and others have decided to retire early. But new businesses have opened as people adapt to changing needs.

Caroline added:

“It has been very important to support the town’s businesses and help spread a little Christmas spirit in these unprecedented times.”

Ian Messinger
Ian Messinger

Ian Messinger and Santa

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