Late rush by shoppers gives city centre traders Christmas cheer

A LATE rush from Christmas shoppers saw the Capital's retailers bounce back from trade lost during the big freeze.

Bosses at the city centre's biggest shopping centre say they were bombarded by shoppers in the fortnight before Christmas, with footfall on some days rising by more than a fifth compared to last year.

Department store giant John Lewis has revealed that its Edinburgh store broke records in the lead-up to Christmas, with sales surging by 22 per cent ahead of the same period last Christmas. The period included the store's biggest-ever day of trade on December 11.

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The company also revealed that its annual clearance sale has got off to a strong start, with sales rising by 84 per cent last Thursday compared with the same day last year.

The bounce back came after the number of shoppers going into the city centre slumped in the earlier part of the month because of the treacherous conditions.

Business leaders today said that it had been a poor festive season overall for retailers but said there were signs of recovery in the days leading up to Christmas, which has continued into the post-Christmas sales season.

Ron Hewitt, chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "Clearly the weather has had an impact on people getting out there to the shops but to some degree these encouraging figures take up the slack from earlier in the month.

"Overall, the season has not been fantastic for retail but there is pent-up demand now being caught up upon and we are confident that Edinburgh's retail offering is good enough, and that there is enough optimism in the economy, for retailers to recover what they did not see in the earlier part of the month."

New figures published by John Lewis - widely regarded as the bellwether of the high street - show that sales at its St James Centre store in the week to December 18 surged 22.5 per cent ahead of the same week of 2009.

Andrew Murphy, the partnership's retail director and a former managing director of the Edinburgh store, said: "Overall, if you take out the snow impact, it has been an improving trend at the Edinburgh store for the last three to four months. Even in the worst week of snow, they recovered lost sales with their biggest-ever day two Saturdays before Christmas.

"The performance in Edinburgh has been fantastic and last Thursday sales were up by 84 per cent year-on-year - the biggest increase of any of the UK stores."

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Despite the growth since last year, Mr Murphy said that sales were still lower than the all-time highs reached in 2007-8. "That is mainly down to two things," he said. "One is the disruption to the roads system in central Edinburgh and the other is the impact of the recession.

"But we are delighted in the business as a whole and Edinburgh's performance has been very strong. Credit needs to be given to the staff at that store because many have had to struggle to just make it into work in recent weeks."

Bosses at the St James Centre said more than 800,000 shoppers came through its doors in the fortnight up to Boxing Day. The biggest individual rise was on December 23, when footfall was up 22 per cent on the same date last year, at 82,000.

General manager Rochelle Burgess said there had been an "unprecedented" increase in sales of hats, scarves and gloves during the cold snap, while some traders on Multrees Walk reported queues stretching out of their doors and into the street.