CASH tills will be ringing with a vengeance this weekend as Leeds continues to blaze a money-spinning trail out of recession – in face a national downturn trend.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on the city centre today and tomorrow for big spending on last-minute Christmas presents and treats.
Council bosses say the 48-hour rush should take the total ‘footfall’ in the middle of Leeds to around 1.5 million for the week.
Nearly 200,000 people are set to throng the Trinity Leeds shopping centre alone over the course of the weekend.
And, in a boost for Leeds’s efforts to establish itself as one of the UK’s genuine regional heavyweights, the city is bucking a worrying national trend.
The British Retail Consortium says footfall across the country dropped 2.9 per cent in November compared to the same time last year.
High streets reported the biggest decrease, down 4.2 per cent on 2012. In Leeds, however, November 30 was the busiest day in the city centre since December 2009. Other reasons to be cheerful include:
* City centre footfall totals have been up on 2012 every week since the middle of October;
* Footfall after the countdown to Christmas properly kicked in has been 8.9 per cent higher than last year;
* Nearly 200,000 people visited Kirkgate Market between December 8 and 14, a rise of 1.2 per cent on the same period in 2012. Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy and development, said: “The number of people visiting Leeds city centre in the run-up to Christmas is always a key indicator of both the quality of our retail offering and how well our economy is doing.
“The fact that this is set to be the busiest Christmas since 2009 – the year when the recession really began to bite – shows just how resilient our city is and what a flagship shopping destination Leeds has become.
“These fantastic figures are proof positive that Leeds rallied spectacularly from the impact of the economic downturn and, helped by the impact of developments such as Trinity Leeds and the First Direct Arena, the city is now entering a new period of prosperity and success.”
Trinity Leeds, which opened in March, says at present its average footfall is 40 per cent up on regular weeks.
More than 500,000 people flocked through its doors in the space of one recent seven-day period. Customers are, on average, staying for 96 minutes per visit in Trinity Leeds – slightly shorter than normal and therefore an indication, says the centre, that they are shopping more “purposefully” as time ticks away to December 25.
Trinity Leeds marketing manager Paul Smith said: “We’re not expecting the shopping frenzy to end at Christmas.
“Once the Christmas Day festivities are over, we’re expecting over 100,000 to hit the shops on Boxing Day to make the most of the sales.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw up to 750,000 shoppers dropping into Trinity Leeds between Christmas and New Year to bag some bargains.”
The effect of Trinity Leeds on the city’s wider success story this Christmas was underlined today by Prof Cathy Barnes, an expert in retail innovation at Leeds Metropolitan University.
She told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I believe that it is having a big impact on people coming here for recreational shopping.
“A few years ago, they might have said ‘let’s go over to [Manchester’s] Trafford Centre’, but people are now saying ‘let’s see what Trinity Leeds has to offer’.”
Prof Barnes also sounded a note of caution, though, amid the general rejoicing at the city’s soaring visitor figures.
Pointing out that online giant Amazon UK recorded the busiest day in its history on December 2, she said: “More and more people are doing what used to be called ‘window shopping’ but is now known as ‘showrooming’ – basically, going round the stores browsing, then heading home and ordering the products they’ve seen on the internet.
“What the retailers have to do is try to close the sale while the customer is in their store, or make their own website attractive enough for the home purchase to happen through it.”
Prof Barnes added: “From a retail perspective, certainly I think there is more confidence in consumer spending.
“I think Christmas has come at a really good time, in that there is increased confidence in things like house prices, so people might be prepared to spend that little bit more this year.”
It’s not just the middle of Leeds that is reaping the rewards of the festive feelgood factor, however. The White Rose Shopping Centre in Churwell says it should welcome more than 100,000 visitors today and tomorrow.
Centre director James Bailey said: “We have a very loyal customer base who love doing their Christmas shopping here while parking free of charge.
“The centre’s retailers are performing strongly, with sales up when compared with the same period for last year.
“We have also seen a 20 per cent increase in the sales of our own White Rose gift cards.”
Mr Bailey added: “Woolly Christmas jumpers have been flying off the shelves and we expect that trend to continue alongside sales of branded footwear, ladies’ accessories, jewellery, mobile phones and accessories and e-readers, which are among the top-selling items this year.”
The Christmas surge to the shops comes at the end of a year that has been one of the most fruitful in Leeds’s recent history.
Its city centre was recently rated fifth in a list of England’s most vibrant urban areas – up from the 30th position it would have occupied if the same rundown had been compiled just over a decade ago.
Other places in the new top 10 included the swanky London areas of Kensington and Chelsea.
Housing type, economic activity and the professional status of residents were all criteria that helped information services company Experian compile the list. Leeds is also looking forward to a bumper 2014, with foreign visitors expected to pour into the city when it hosts the opening stage of the Tour de France cycling race in July.
Profile-boosting music acts lined up for the First Direct Arena next year, meanwhile, include Miley Cyrus, Robbie Williams and Pearl Jam.