Capital defies talk of slump as shoppers carry on spending

EDINBURGH'S shops are outperforming the rest of Scotland despite the economic gloom, a new study suggests.

Nearly a third of the city's retailers reported an increase in sales between July and September, according to the latest survey by the Scottish Chamber of Commerce.

The news comes as traders on Princes Street reported bumper numbers of shoppers through their doors in the run-up to Christmas.

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The Scottish Chamber of Commerce figures put Edinburgh ahead of Glasgow, which had no shops reporting sales increase in the same quarter.

Edinburgh outperformed its west coast rival, as well as Dundee and Aberdeen, despite the ongoing tram line construction and the onset of recession.

However, the Chamber's survey also found that 55 per cent of retailers in Edinburgh and the Borders reported a decrease in sales in the same period.

Ron Hewitt, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "It is certainly not all doom and gloom, but equally it would be a bold person who predicted we are set for a bumper year.

"Clearly some people are doing better than others and the biggest hits seem to be on the bigger items, such as the new car or fridge, while food and fashion sales seem to be fairly steady.

"We have seen some job losses but not large scale ones and if they come in the financial sector, it will be next year, so that will change things in Edinburgh.

"With the Christmas season I think there has been a tendency for people to leave purchases a bit longer, so it will not be until next year we see how this season has gone."

The general manager of St James Shopping Centre, Rochelle Weir, said the signs were good.

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"Footfall was up around six per cent in November compared to last year," she said. "However, our trading figures weren't as great in November. It was a difficult month, with less than 50 per cent of retailers reaching their target sales.

"The first week in December has been fantastic and the Christmas rush has certainly started. Almost 100,000 people came through the door on Saturday alone, which was phenomenal."

The last figures from the city council's footfall monitoring service show a 17 per cent rise in average footfall between July and the end of September compared to the previous three months.

The average weekly pedestrian count across the city centre was 126,669 in the third quarter, compared to 105,136 in the second.

A spokesman for Debenhams said customer numbers had increased by two thirds over the last fortnight at stores across Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland.

He said: "We have another sale which starts today and finishes on Friday.

"We think it's our job as retailers to help customers with the current financial situation."

Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, said the figures showed Edinburgh was "bucking the trend".

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"We've been spearheading a publicity campaign to promote the city centre, including a new shopping guide, TV and radio advertising, so I am hopeful this upward trend will continue throughout the festive season and beyond."