Saturday, 20 August 2022

Tills were ringing for Christmas, say shop owners

RETAILERS in Henley celebrated a boost in sales in the run-up to Christmas.

Most traders said they had experienced at least like-for-like sales compared with December in previous years and some reported an increase in trade.

However, others complained about footfall being down on previous years and problems with the annual Christmas festival when many shops stay open late.

Alan Mann, owner of Henley Sports in Greys Road, said: “Year-on-year we have been up and December was busier than last year, especially in the final few weeks before Christmas when I was very, very busy.

“People came in and told me they had ordered things online but they had failed to be delivered so they were coming into the shop to buy them.

“We had a mix of regular customers coming in for sports kit, people buying gifts and those coming in for big items as presents.”

Anthony Galloway, owner of the Vintage Look in Hart Street, said: “We had a strong December and it was up compared with previous months. More people are getting to know us and our business every year and they come back. You have to build that relationship with customers.”

Laura Loveridge, manager of Temptation Gifts in Bell Street, said sales rose in the last few days before Christmas as online retailers were unable to deliver that late.

She said: “Once online shopping can’t be done anymore they come in for bits and bobs. The weekend before Christmas we were very busy.”

Mrs Loveridge said the offer of free parking on Tuesdays in December had little effect.

She added: “We didn’t see any noticeable increase in trade. It might be better to run the free parking on days closer to the weekend.”

Christiaan Jonkers, who runs Jonkers Rare Books in Hart Street with his wife Sam, said: “December is always quite a busy time for us. Books are the oldest Christmas present of all and we have all sorts of books that most people would love to receive as gifts.

“Most people stop buying online when the sellers are unable to deliver. On the Friday and Saturday before Christmas the shop was manic, which was lovely.”

Mr Jonkers said the Christmas festival didn’t help his trade as Hart Street was used for fairground rides.

He said: “We have the rides put in front of our shop, which nullifies any prospect of us being able to stay open. It used to be more of a Christmas market.”

Ana Senegeac, manager of Joules in Market Place, agreed that the festival didn’t help custom.

“When people come into the shop it’s to warm up rather than buy things,” she said. “There should be another night specifically for late-night shopping where people know the shops are going to be open until 8pm, 9pm or 10pm.”

Ms Senegeac said sales in December had been good but she was worried about footfall in the town generally.

Hilary Redhead, manager of the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street, said: “It was a really good festive period for us but it always feels busy in December.

“There were a good range of books out and I think a lot of independent booksellers are on the up. It’s fashionable for people to go and buy books from an independent seller. We find there is a lot of support for us from people in Henley.”

Jessica Jones, manager of womenswear shop Fluidity, said: “Our business has been constant and steady. We definitely have loyal customers.

“One issue they always flag up is parking, which has not improved over time.”

Matthew Stone, who runs chocolate shop Gorvett & Stone in Duke Street, said December was a busy time.

“I haven’t done a full analysis but I would say we are similar or slightly up on last year,” he said. “It was in line with what we were expecting.

“Trade on Sundays was down but that was to do with the weather. We had snow one Sunday and on December 17 we were hampered by it pouring with rain so it was quiet in town.”

He said the offer of free parking on Tuesdays had little effect, but added: “Most things that could be done to help traders are being done.”

Barry Wagner, owner of Gabriel Machin butchers in Market Place, said trade was similar to last year.

In the last few days before Christmas customers queued in the street to collect their turkeys and meat from the shop.

Mr Wagner said: “We were where we expected to be and it was on a par with last year.

“I think the Christmas festival is a good way to start December and get people into town. It gives shops a chance to showcase themselves, so I think it works well.”

Laurence Morris, who runs the menswear shop Laurence in Duke Street, said his turnover was up but footfall had fallen.

He said: “In a nutshell, spend per customer was slightly up. Leading up to Christmas, the town seemed a lot quieter than it had in previous years. Whether that was the weather or something else, I do not know. Customers told me they felt the town was quieter.”

Mr Morris, who opened his shop in 2012, said there were too many nail bars, coffee shops and charity shops.

He added: “What we need, and this has to be done in co-operation with landlords and estate agents, is to find a way for more independents to come in, which will work to attract more people into town.”

Town manager Helen Barnett said the town council would be reviewing all its festive events and working to improve them.

She said: “We will be going back to basics and looking at who we are running them for and what the benefits are.

“We want to deliver the best events for the town and use them to drive footfall.

“The shops we have in the town are very good quality and there is a good variety. We are trying to encourage more people to shop locally.”

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