'We're optimistic': What five Norwich shops say about the year ahead

People out and about in Gentleman's Walk as face masks are to become compulsory on public transport

Businesses are confident customers will begin to pour back into the high street after restrictions have lifted. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Having battled through the pandemic for nearly two years, official reports suggest Norwich's economy is struggling to bounce back.

However, reporter FRANCIS REDWOOD spoke to people at five city centre firms and found they were generally optimistic about what the future would hold.

Mountain Warehouse, London Street

Mountain Warehouse assistance manager Lisa Hutchinson

Lisa Hutchinson, assistant manager at Mountain Warehouse. - Credit: Archant

Lisa Hutchinson, who is assistant manager at Mountain Warehouse, said: "We've seen trade is starting to come back and sales are better.

"It hasn't been perfect of course, but we are getting there."

"I think promotions and sales are a big incentive in order to bring people back into the city and increase foot traffic to the area.

"We've also got a few new shops coming up around here which should hopefully help us out too."

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Bowhill & Elliot, London Street

Bowhill and Elliot head of retail, Marc Debieux

Marc Debieux, head of retail at Bowhill & Elliot. - Credit: Archant

Mark Debieux, head of retail, said: "It has been challenging and although footfall has been down a little bit our figures are very stable.

"We've been very lucky that people have come in and supported us.

"Spending in general has been higher thanks to local tourism - you've got people coming to Norfolk and spending money here instead as they can't go abroad.

"I'm very confident for this year and that we are through the worst of this pandemic.

"I honestly think Norwich is going to experience a revival."

Lady B Loves, Royal Arcade

Lady B Loves shop owner Jenny Bealey

Jenny Bealey, shop owner at Lady B Loves. - Credit: Archant

Jenny Bealey, shop owner, said: "I think people have very much missed that interaction with other people and that face to face experience.

"With people being forced to buy things online, even though you have to be very careful still, they don't mind coming to the city as they get that extra service an online site doesn't provide.

"We've found that people have been supportive of independent shops like us and they are enjoying the shopping experience again.

"It's been much better than I though and I have faith that things will pick up even more when restrictions are lifted.

"I think it's really important Norwich stays the unique, vibrant city that it currently is with what it sells and that people continue supporting small businesses, with those in charge making sure it's affordable for us to stay here."

Lovering & Co. located in the market place

Lovering and Co employee Jim Sorboen

Jim Sorboen works at Lovering & Co in the market. - Credit: Archant

Jim Sorboen, who works on the market stall, said: "I don't think sales and the number of customers coming through has been as good at is could have.

"To be honest, it's not been as dreadful as it might have been but I worry for the future.

"With the tightening of credit there seems to be more of a focus on spending money on the essentials, as opposed to what you want, which is where the pinch is getting people. 

"It's very difficult to see an end in sight. If people are truly skint, they'll have to shop around more and go for the more compelling offer.

"But at the end of the day it's difficult to wrestle people away from the likes of some of the larger companies when you're a small local business. When something's a tenner there but £25 here you've got problems."

City Hats, also located in the market place

City Hats market shop owner Scott Allen

Scott Allen, who runs the market shop, City Hats. - Credit: Archant

Scott Allen, who has worked the markets for eight years, said: "There's been hardly any people about and this month for me has been terrible.

"You've got people working from home and therefore not coming into the city so it's been very slow.

"We just need the footfall and more people to come into the city - I'm hoping that lifting restrictions may help but there needs to be some sort of encouragement to bring customers here.

"It is a worrying time for me but I'm not sure what can be done."

As reported, Norwich's retail sector was one of the worst hit in the East of England during the pandemic, but is in a good position to recover post-Covid. 

Centre for Cities, an independent group aiming to improve the economies of the UK's largest cities, found that of the seven cities in this region, Norwich was the second hardest hit, losing 33 weeks of potential sales.