Should Norwich’s shops stay open later? Data suggests the city would benefit
- Credit: Archant
Should Norwich have a more European approach to business, with restaurants and shops staying open later into the evenings? What would the city need to do to make this happen? Would it be worth it?
These are the questions which retail leaders pondered at Norwich BID's Retail Conference today, off the back of news that Norwich's evening and night-time economy were the drivers behind increased footfall to the city.
It was suggested that retailers and restaurants could extend their opening hours to maximise on evening browsers, to claw back some of the footfall lost in the day time economy as a result of online shopping habits.
Jonathon Burnett, from retail intelligence company Springboard, said: 'It is the evening and night-time economy which has created the footfall. From our monitors we also saw employment footfall increase as a result of people walking more to and from work in the night-time economy.
'This could highlight a need to adjust retail opening hours.'
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And businesses are already responding to the higher demand for evening services. Despite increasing amounts of retail space lying empty in Norwich, leisure facilities are amongst the most common newcomers to the city.
Relationship manager Chris Fowler of the Local Data Company revealed that there had been an increase in restaurants in Norwich of 21.9% in the last six years, as well as a steady increase in the amount of accommodation.
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In 2017 Norwich saw a year-on-year footfall increase of 2.7% – averaging 340,000 visitors a week – with the week leading up to Christmas being the busiest period as the figure hit 460,000.
The value of extending activities in Norwich into the evening was proven this summer, when 'Head Out Not Home' events including street music and entertainers organised by the Norwich BID led to a footfall increase of up to 45% between 5pm and 8pm.
However speaker at the event Wayne Hemingway, co-founder of Red or Dead and now designer-cum-architect said these results were 'poor'.
'50% in comparison to what?' he asked. 'The events need better advertising to get people using town centres not just for shopping, but for meetings and going out.'
What does Norwich need for a better evening economy?
A panel looking at how to improve trade in the city discussed what could be done to overcome issues holding back the evening economy.
Anita Barrie, owner of Gallyons clothing shop in Bedford Street, said customers needed a reason to stay out in Norwich in the evenings - and better ways to get home.
She said: 'Norwich is a rural city, with people living out in Dereham or North Walsham who need to be able to get into Norwich, and get home. And yet our park and ride services finish at 7pm. Perhaps if that service was extended we would see more people in the city centre, if they knew they had a way to get home.'
She added: 'We also have a large population of older people who rely on the bus. Perhaps a concession or better rail and bus links would also aid this.'
But Robert Bradley of Castle Mall said: 'That idea would have to be weighed up, as even though we could see an increased footfall, shopping centres would see a decrease in demand for their car parks.'
Does Norwich need to improve inter-city promotion?
Keynote speaker Wayne Hemingway told the conference at Carrow Road that on first impressions the city needed to better promote itself.
The Red or Dead co-founder said: 'I didn't know how fantastic Norwich was until I came here, and my question is why? I went out on a run and covered pretty much every street, but not everybody has the same curiosity as I do, and I think pathfinding and signage needs to be better in the city.
'Unless I missed it, I didn't see any digital signs which I think would be useful, and didn't see signs to independent hubs, just to places like the train station.'
Stefan Gurney, executive of Norwich BID, countered: 'We are working on some digital signs with the city council which will be on trial in November. As a result of conversations today there's potential to work across city and county councils, but we will be trialling to see if the signs have an impact first.'