THE start of the traditional post-Christmas sales yesterday brought a welcome boost to traders in Flintshire suffering the toughest retail conditions in a decade.

Shopkeepers say consumer confidence has been “shattered” and customer numbers have plunged in the run-up to Christmas.

It is thought the economic climate, Arctic weather conditions and the popularity of online shopping are to blame for dwindling business.

Colin Gilligan, manager of Broughton Shopping Park, said he had not experienced a lull like this since the park opened in 1999.

He told the Leader: “It is a combination of factors which have made for a pretty tough year.

“A new Morrisons supermarket has opened in nearby Saltney which hasn’t helped the situation, and Chester city centre is doing everything it can to attract more shoppers.

“Some retailers have brought their sales forward and there are tremendous offers on at the moment, but more and more people take to the internet to shop.

“And 2011 is going to be tough with the VAT increase.

“Consumer confidence is at an all time low. The consumer psyche is shattered.”

Medwyn Roberts, Holywell town centre manager, said it is a lot easier for shoppers to buy online.

“It is rather disappointing when you look down the high street and there is hardly anyone there,” he said.

“People are watching their pennies and the weather means people are shopping from the comfort of their own home.

“There are too many obstacles in their way. I am just as bad because I am only going out when I really need to.”

Stephen Hughes, chairman of the Holywell Town Partnership Board, blames supermarkets for the decline of independent businesses.

He said: “Christmas trading has been disappointing for a lot of high street stores.
“Supermarkets offer a large covered area which is more convenient for shoppers because everything is under one roof.”

Mr Hughes, who owns Peter Hughes Footwear on High Street, Holywell, says car parking charges also discourage visitors to the town.

“It is most unhelpful,” he said.

“Car parking in the centre of Chester is free after 3pm, but you have to pay in Holywell.

“Trading is difficult. There is no doubt about it.”

But it seems to be a different story in Buckley which has seen the largest number of shoppers in seven years.

Town centre manager Andrew Wilkinson can vouch for the claim after he stood at the entrance to The Arcade Shopping Precinct in the town and kept a tally of the number of customers.

He said: “It was absolutely staggering the number of people who were hurrying around town doing their Christmas shopping.

“I can only assume that they cannot make it to the large supermarkets with the bad weather and have chosen to shop on their doorstep instead.

“We have vacant shops like every other town, but I think trading has been quite good.”

The sales brought shoppers into the Broughton Shopping Park yesterday, much to the delight of traders.

Kathy Preece, store manager at Asda Living at Broughton Shopping Park said: “We’ve had a really good day, there’s been lots of people around despite the weather. There’s been lots of people coming for the Next sale and they’ve then come on to us. We opened at 6am.”

A spokesman for Accessorize said: “We’ve been really busy today and the shopping park’s been pretty full, it’s been manic.”

A spokesman for Blacks said: “It’s been excellent today. We opened at 9am and there were a few people waiting outside.”

He added Next had been really busy with people queing early outside in the freezing cold waiting for them to open.

A spokesman for Clarks said: “We’ve done really well today, it’s been very busy.”