Despite the economic downturn which has struck so suddenly, accompanied by job losses with the fear of more to come, Waterford retailers are looking with optimism to the Christmas trade.
While major stores like Harvey Norman and TK Maxx on the Outer Ring Road have been attracting customers in huge numbers, there is evidence of a resurgence in the city centre over recent days, with traders confident the momentum will continue to build over the next three weeks.
That was affirmed by Waterford Chamber CEO Monica Leech who said that starting last weekend there had been a definite upsurge, both in terms of trade and festive atmosphere. She said the launch of a Christmas website (Christmasinwaterford.ie) mounted by the Chamber, City Hall and The Munster Express, was undoubtedly bearing fruit and on top of that there was a growing consciousness of the need to spend locally.
In that context the Chamber has mounted a poster campaign entitled Let’s Pull Together and Ms Leech said she was delighted to note that less shoppers were travelling to Dublin, Cork and elsewhere to spend their hard-earned. “It is vital in the current climate that we support our own and I’m very pleased to see people are doing that”, she commented.
She said City Hall’s gesture of free on-street parking from 4 pm, which continues until the end of the post-Christmas sales, will prove a worthwhile incentive in attracting shoppers into the city, as will the Victorian Carousel at John Roberts Square. That is expected bring the children in substantial numbers and with them their parents, which can only be good for wider business.
Behind the latterventure are Jim Corcoran, formerly of The Salvage Shop, Liam Rellis of the Imagine Arts Festival and Brian Tynan of Sam McCauley Chemist, and both Ms Leech and Collette Byrne, Director of Community and Enterprise at City Hall, also had a hand in the arrangements.
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The carousel, officially opened last Friday in conjunction with Mayor Jack Walsh’s switch-on of the Christmas lights, is one of the biggest in Europe and was supplied by John and Gwyneth Warrington of Stoke. It dates back to 1890 and was originally powered by steam. The hope is that it will become an annual Christmas feature and it is certainly planned to have it in place for the return of The Tall Ships in 2011.
Dedicated to the memory of the late Brian Fitzgerald, the carousel is located just across from Heroes clothes shop, of which he was proprietor at the time of his sudden and untimely passing last January.
Brian’s father Tony Fitzgerald, of Fitzgerald Menswear in Barronstrand St, is touched and appreciative of that gesture and sees the carousel as a magnet for children and an appropriate and important fixture in the city centre through the festive period. He has seen another in a similar sized “Square” in Florence but says the Waterford one is far more impressive.
Mr Fitzgerald is also appreciative of the free parking provision by City Hall, but would like it to have been extended to earlier in the day – he feels 4 pm is a bit late for shoppers to avail fully of the concession.
He has a problem too with the cost of parking in Waterford. He sees the €1.50 per hour charge as a significant negative for shoppers and points to Clonmel, where he also has a store, as an example of reasonably priced parking at €1 an hour. He says it makes a huge difference.
Mr Fitzgerald attributed a fall-off in trade through October and November to fears over the recession, particularly in relation to job retention. But he expected business to pick up as Christmas approached.
City Square Manager Alan Weston acknowledged a general downturn in the retail trade but said there had been a turnaround in the last couple of weeks. “Business has definitely been slower than last year but we are still trading well and are looking forward to a good Christmas. I’m optimistic”, he said.
Kathleen Fitzgerald, Manager of George’s Court Shopping Centre, echoed the appeal for people to shop local, which she said was hugely important.
She said that since last weekend both trade and atmosphere had been building nicely, with the Christmas lights and the carousel important factors.
She believed that on account of the economic difficulties, people were trying harder to make Christmas a happy time and that was reflected in the response to the Giving Tree in the centre of George’s Court, re-launched this year in collaboration with Hasbro who provide a toy for a needy child in response to each decoration placed on the tree.
Mr Stephen Shaw, Manager of Shaws, The Quay, acknowledged that Christmas trade had not commenced as early as in previous years, but it was now picking up and he was “comfortable” with the current trend and confident looking to the weeks ahead.