Durham bucked the national downward trend for high street footfall in 2016. Figures show a modest increase of 1.7% in the numbers of people visiting the city’s centre as compared to 2015.
Adam Deathe, the business engagement manager for Durham Business Improvement District (BID), commented, “Footfall was up year-on-year 1.7%. Given that 2015 included Lumiere, which wasn’t held last year, it shows that Durham is doing remarkably well.”
“Even businesses that have seen the footfall go down said the spend was up. People are going to shop not just to browse.”
A number of reasons had caused business people to feel pessimistic about the local economy’s 2016 performance, ranging from long-running roadworks on the A690 during summer to ongoing renovation work at The Gates shopping centre to the impact of the Brexit vote.
Durham City Centre also lost its branch of BHS, which had been one of its biggest stores. Other concerns were centred on the growth of online retailing and the popularity of out-of-town shopping facilities.
Mr Deathe added, “Nationally there was a big push towards online retailing, which is an ever-growing trend.”
“People are shopping differently, with things like click and collect so people can order anything from places like Boots and M&S and pick it up in-store.”
“That’s great for a city like Durham, where the retail offer is broad but the units aren’t the largest. It means people are still coming in, not just to shop but for culture or a leisurely afternoon.”
Durham Markets, the company that owns Durham Market Hall and operates a number of other markets in the city, reported a slight decrease in footfall in 2016.
Colin Wilkes, from Durham Markets, said, “It’s been a challenging year for the high street. Like most cities, we’re up against out-of-town retailers and internet sales so we’re constantly seeking to find something a bit different and a bit quirky.”
But Mr Wilkes said the Christmas figures had been encouraging. “December has not been too bad. We were up about 11% year-on-year and were particularly busy over the Christmas Festival period.”
Durham’s three-day Christmas Festival, held over the first weekend in December, saw 30,000 shoppers visiting the city’s festive markets.
Nationally, the picture was less positive, with The Guardian newspaper reporting a decrease of 9% in high street footfall in the run-up to Christmas.
Mr Wilkes commented, “National footfall figures are well down so anything that’s close to parity (with the previous year) is a good result.”