Blackpool traders hope for miracle to save festive season
Retailers in Blackpool say they are facing a Black ChristmasÂ as the slew of roadworks has put people off coming to the resort to shop.
They say their busiest time of the year, the weeks of festive income they rely on to keep their business thriving, has been devastated.
Many say they have seen takings and customer numbers down between 30 and 75 per cent.
But as the work to improve the town centre continues to threaten trade, business leaders in the resort have insisted Blackpool is ‘open for business’ in an effort to encourage residents to support local shops.
More than 100 traders gathered at a Blackpool Business Improvement District meeting at VIVA Blackpool yesterday morning to plead with senior council people to help rescue their trade in the remaining weeks before Christmas.
Alan Cavill, director of place for Blackpool Council; Coun Mark Smith, cabinet member for business and economic development; and John Blackledge, director of community and environmental services, were all at the meeting to hear traders’ concerns as a consequence of the road works and the impact on their businesses.
Richard Lefton, from the Lefton’s Group which has sold quality furniture in Blackpool since 1946, said he was furious.
He said: “The tram idea is a total waste of money and the road works have caused utter mayhem.
“To carry work out at this time of year is appalling considering that for most retailers it should be their best time.
“Not only is the town centre a mess in every sense , but also you have the disruption on the roads in South Shore putting people off coming here to do their Christmas shopping.
“They always talk about getting things done before Easter for the tourist season , but they forget about the people who actually live here and work here all year round.
“Once a local person goes elsewhere to do their special shopping, to Lancaster, Preston or Manchester, and they like the offer there, then they will never come back here.
“Our takings are massively down. For example, on Black Friday, even though we are not an online business, I would say they were 75 per cent down on the previous two years.
“The traffic is terrible. It took me 20 minutes last night to get from North Station to Park Road. Who is going to put up with that to come shopping?
“Given the problems the economy is having now, why make things impossible? We have so many empty shops on our streets, do the council want us all to out of business?”
Warwick Tunnicliffe, from Warwick’s Amusements, said traders in the St John’s area were telling him they had noticed fewer customers.
He said: “From a personal point of view, two of our shops have been affected.
“Business is tough enough without this added aggravation. The jury is very much out on whether the improvements will benefit everyone. It is going to be a tough Christmas for everyone trading.”
Rick Taylor, from the Regent emporium and cinema said Church Street, said: “We have seen about a 30 per cent drop in footfall since the roadworks started, particularly in the week which has had a significant impact on sales.
“We are showing ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ this weekend and that’s exactly what traders are looking for now to avoid a black Christmas.”
Wendy Hanson, from Caves Corner in Queen Street, which has sold gifts and leather goods there since 1927, said times were tough on the high street anyway thanks to online trading but the roadworks had not helped. She said: “We are closing our store this week. We had planned to do it anyway for a while. The internet is the real killer.
“But I just can’t see the real benefit from the tram work for the long term and it has caused huge problems.”
Simon Wrigley, who has the Coffee Pot cafe in Birley Street and the Number Five in Cedar Square, said he supported the works but said the council could have notified people better.
He said: “The Coffee Pot has been busier but business has been affected at Number Five. The two weeks of really bad weather has also not helped. One issue we had was that we did not know about the barriers in St John’s Square. That Sunday our takings were halved.
“We got on to the council next day and to be fair to them some of the barriers were taken away to let people get through better. I am all for the regeneration work – I know others aren’t – but I think the council could have handled it all better beforehand.
“For example some nice signs should have been put up at October half term to let visitors know the town would still be open for business.
“What people want now is free parking to get people to come back. I was at the BID meeting and some people were very angry but there were others speaking in favour of the work in the long term.”
Stephen Pierre, from the Galleon Bar, said: “The day and night time economy has been affected – its clear for all to see.
“The biggest contention shown from many of the town centre business and taxi drivers is that they don’t want or need a tram extension along Talbot Road.
“It is widely accepted that Blackpool businesses would like to see a modern purpose built bus station to attract greater footfall from around Blackpool and the Fylde Coast. The works have started without a Transport for Works Act (TWA) order in place. Would this level of disruption be allowed to happen in London and have such a detrimental effect on businesses and road traffic without a TWA in place? I very much doubt it.
“Businesses, taxi drivers, tradesmen, suppliers both small and large operators are all affected by this major disruption. The council desperately need to put rescue measures in place, to support town centre businesses, initiatives such as reduced parking, and lower bus and tram fares to attract people back to the town centre .
“How do the council possibly expect businesses to survive the next 16 months or more?”