Shropshire's market towns catch a cold as trade drops in big chill
Shropshire's market towns are counting the cost of the big freeze, with one store saying trade was down by up to three quarters.
The county’s towns have a high proportion of independent traders and many also rely on passing trade and tourism.
So the arrival of the Beast from the East was an unwelcome challenge as traders stocked up for normal early March business only to find themselves snowed in.
The weather caused events in Bridgnorth to be cancelled including performances at the Theatre on the Steps. Efforts were made by volunteers at Severn Valley Railway to keep services running throughout the weekend, while the Cliff Railway closed for most of Friday after a burst water pipe.
Bridgnorth’s traders expressed concerns over takings and a drop in footfall – only months after trade the town took a big hit with the bypass roadworks.
Jackie Riley, owner of Violet’s Tea Room, in Waterloo Terrace, said: “The weather effected us enormously – we hardly had any customers visiting. The snow had not been cleared by us, so for people walking down it was quite treacherous.
“We had a really bad week. We had to close on Friday because I couldn’t even get into the town because of the weather. On Saturday and Sunday we did not make even a quarter of what we normally do on a weekend.”
Helen Chaudron, of Tanners Wines in High Street, said: “The weather had a significant effect. We were more than a third down on the previous week for people coming through the door and money in the till. More than a third of trade is an awful lot.
“Earlier in February we were showing the first signs of recovering from the roadworks last year, where people had stopped shopping in High Street. We were doing really well again, until the snow hit. People do like coming to Bridgnorth on a weekend, but last weekend no one came to town. There were only three market stalls – it was completely dead in the town.”
Daniel Hubbard, supervisor at Majestic Cinema, in Whitburn Street, added: “Trade completely dropped off for us. We had to have the same amount of staff in but people just did not come out and see films. We have a screen that seats 400 people – and on Sunday there were only four people in there. We should be raking it in, but in reality we struggled to make enough to keep the lights on.”
Shrewsbury’s Pride Hill and Darwin shopping centres also remained open throughout but suffered a drop in footfall between Thursday and Saturday, while Telford Shopping Centre is also thought to have suffered a drop in visitors but declined to comment.
Kevin Lockwood, centre manager for the Pride Hill and Darwin centres, said: “Footfall was down. People stayed indoors as to the Met Office’s advice – and it was sensible advice to do so. Shropshire Council and the town council put in tremendous efforts to ensure the pavements were clear and they continued doing that, so that any customers that came through the town they were able to get through as safely as possible. From our point of view, as a shopping centre, that was good for us.”
Shops suffer worst figures for years
Oswestry town centre traders saw some of their worst trading figures for years last week – with not only the snow but the cold weather that preceded it affecting takings.
Brave stallholders at Oswestry’s indoor market opened the doors to the Powis Hall on both Friday and Saturday although the Saturday outdoor market had to be cancelled.
But many market and shop traders who did manage to open up found there were hardly any shoppers.
Mike Coppock, who runs the Rowanthorn gift and clothing store in Chapel Court, Oswestry, said: “It was a bad trading week, in fact it was my worst takings since 2014. It was not only the snow, it was the cold before the snow came. People weren’t coming out in the cold.”
The snow wreaked havoc in the south of the county and forced Ludlow market to close for four days for safety reasons.
The decision to shut the market was made on Thursday by the town clerk.
Market officer Tony Caton said: “We didn’t have a market on Friday, Saturday or Monday, and we were supposed to have an antiques fair on Sunday which was also cancelled.
“The decision was made because of the potential risk to traders coming in – the roads were really bad and a lot of them live in quite remote parts of the county and are still struggling to get about.
“It was the right choice to close and the traders were very supportive of the decision.
“It’s all back to normal now, thankfully, and we had almost a full market on Wednesday.”
Many of the town’s shops also fell victim to the weather and were unable to open.
“We were snowed in on Thursday and Friday so we lost two days of trade,” said Ross Morris from the Fruit Basket.
“We get our produce from Birmingham Wholesale Market but we weren’t able to get there over the weekend, so that’s affected our stock.
“But we have been busy the last few days now that people can get into town again.”
Those who did manage to open up said they may as well have taken the day off.
“It was dire, absolutely shocking. Trade was down by about 80 per cent,” said Hector Gilbert, manager at Andrew Francis Butchers.
“We didn’t have any deliveries - but we didn’t have any customers to sell to anyway.”
While Market Drayton may have escaped the snow, the extremely cold temperatures still meant fewer people were out on the town’s streets.
Tim Davies, of the Town Barbers in High Street, said he had noticed a quieter week, something he put down to the plunging temperatures.
Nicola Docksey, of Tuesday’s Cakery at Wilkinson’s Walk, said the town had been spared the worst, joking: “I think we have our own little hole in the ozone layer above Market Drayton because it has its own weather system!”
Businesses in Whitchurch were hit by a drop in customers when snow covered the county, but shoppers are making up for it now.
Paul Wojda, one of the owners of Dodington Jewellers, in High Street, said customers stayed away for one or two days when the streets were covered in snow, but that the town got off lightly compared to others.
“Whitchurch escaped quite well compared to other areas, the streets were only covered for a day or two,” he said.
“People didn’t shop as much for those days but now they are making up for it.
“Shoppers were being sensible and not travelling as it was dangerous underfoot.”
A florist in the town only had a handful of customers when the weather was bad, and her flowers were affected as the shop was too cold.
Chloe Everall, of White Wysteria, said: “It was dead when we had the snow.
“All the flowers came in as normal but the quality wasn’t as good and my shop was too cold.”
She added: “I would normally have 10 or 15 customers a day but it was only a few on the snowier days.”
Road closures and bad weather left some shops wondering why they had opened in Newport.
Footfall in the town plummeted as shoppers decided to stay at home, Patrick Beech, chairman of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, said.
Some of the shopkeepers in the High Street decided to shut, and those that opened were left with few customers.
“There were problems,” Mr Beech said.
“The A41 was closed from Weston Park down to the Newport roundabout. Some shops were closed, some open. It disrupts everything.
“It had an impact on the High Street. The Guildhall Cafe said it wasn’t worth opening – there was nobody there.
“There were houses near Pave Lane that were marooned.”
Mr Beech said that he hoped a better summer would bring people flooding back to Newport.
“It’s been a harsh winter, and it’s been really, really cold,” he said.
“Here’s hoping we have a nice summer and it brings people back out.”
Welshpool bucked the trend when it came to the cold and snow last week.
While the town may have been quiet when the snow fell, Mayor and trader Stephen Kaye said it had been very busy in the preceding days.
“People really did seem to take heed of the weather warnings,” he said.
“Welshpool was extremely busy leading up to the snow and there was actually empty shelves, particularly in food stores. I think people thought they were going to be marooned, which some people were.
“Yes, it was quiet when the snow was here but it is getting busier and things will balance out over the weeks.
Councillor Kaye said: “Welshpool is bucking the trend at the moment. There is good footfall between the supermarkets and the town centre.”