Dec 26 2008 by Iain Howie, Stirling Observer Friday
SHOPPERS in Stirling appeared to have had it all wrapped up well in advance of Christmas Eve.
The city centre was unbelieveably quiet for the morning of Christmas Eve – in complete contrast from the day before when shoppers packed the streets and formed major queues in the big name shops.
But retailers told us many were still turning up looking for that something special for their loved ones.
With the credit crunch firmly in people’s minds, shops have told the Observer that they were performing well, particularly throughout December.
One retailer in the city told the Observer that, in his experience, people were still opting for the expensive big name brands in the face of sales.
Audrey Ferrand, of Thistle and Rose on King Street, said that things had picked up in December after a tough year of trading.
“We had made preparations for a bad December after a poor tourist season that hit all of Stirling. But we’re pleased that we’ve done so well in December, despite a number of scare stories in the media.
“We’ve had people buying many items to ship to loved ones living abroad.”
The focus for shopping appeared to have moved to food for Christmas and the New Year.
Supermarkets were busy with people buying the essentials like bread and milk, although many shoppers appeared to have put off their Christmas food shopping until the last minute.
City centre manager Andy Kennedy said that while overall the retail picture for Stirling so far was “not too bad”, but by February “there are definitely going to be some winners and losers”.
He added: “Footfall is holding up and a lot of the cafes, restaurants and bars in particular are doing pretty well, though some of the bookings for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are down.
“On the general retail front , everybody is in ‘sale mode’ which makes it very difficult to do a direct comparison, but undoubtedly we are seeing the same general pattern that we have noticed for the past five or six years, with shoppers leaving it later and later before venturing out.
“People have definitely been holding out for prices to come down, convinced that if they just hold off long enough they will do.
“The new year is going to be very, very tough for all towns in Scotland.
“I think as we get to late February in particular, that’s when we’re going to start seeing who the real winners and losers are and when we might start to see gaps appearing in the High Street and the rise of the whole range of issues that that brings with it.
“For example, if you have closures among even a few of the bigger retailers, that makes it difficult to keep the footfall up as you don’t have the same draws for consumers which can help support the smaller retailers round about.
“The test for February in particular will be how we can respond to that.
“There are things we can do locally – around marketing and promotion, trying to push the Stirling brand –- and things that will have to be looked at nationally, such as tax incentives for businesses.
“Whatever happens 2009 is going to be a tough time and anyone who thinks differently is, frankly, living in a dream world.”
Stirling’s branch of Woolworths - one of the largest stores in the city’s Thistles Centre - is set to close its doors for the last time on January 5.
Everything in the shop is now up for grabs, with signs advertising sales of fixtures and fittings too.
Employing 61 members of staff Woolworths has been a presence in Stirling since 1924 and has occupied its current site, both before and after the opening of the shopping centre around it, since 1962.
Alloa’s branch of Woolies will close on Monday, December 29.
In August, the Observer reported growing concern about the number of city centre businesses that were shutting down around that time, though Stirling Council’s Scott Farmer, portfolio holder for corporate, resources and economy, said then that it was “too simplistic” to blame it all on the current economic climate.
Councillor Farmer said then that the city centre economy remained “healthy”.