Save our small shops!

Standishgate, Wigan
Standishgate, Wigan

WIGAN’S smaller retailers are calling for more stringent measures to save the town’s high street.

As shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna suggests Britain adopts America’s Small Business Saturday - a one-day event which urges shoppers to make purchases at independent units in their area - the town’s shopkeepers say more needs to be done in a similar vein to keep them afloat against the onslaught of superstores and online sale.

Mike Riddell, founder of WiganPlus, a loyalty card scheme involving small local shops, backed the Small Business Saturday idea but added: “I think it is only a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

“People are struggling to make a living and so one day won’t make a real difference. We need a more imaginative response than that. We need to work with Wigan Council and the landlords of both shopping centres to keep people coming.

“We should be introducing a car parking scheme where if people spend £5 in the market, they get their parking for half price. We need to link spending and discounts together.

“WiganPlus has a loyalty scheme, but that needs to go much further. We need to give people incentives to shop in our town centres. If people do not shop locally, the market halls and town centre will not thrive, resulting in the economy being affected.”

Richard Paxton, centre director of The Galleries, said: “We know from research that shoppers in Wigan are from the local area and visit us regularly. It is vitally important to the Wigan economy that these consumers are incentivised to continue shopping locally.

“Wigan has a high proportion of independent local businesses who rely on the loyalty of the population. The Galleries, along with those businesses, would welcome initiatives that promote this diversity.”

Despite not being selected to win a grant to improve town centres through the national Portas Pilot, the council was awarded £100,000 through the government’s High Street Innovation Fund last year to bring empty shops back into use and boost business. Mike Matthews, Wigan town centre manager, said: “We already have a range of initiatives and schemes in place to help independent businesses here in Wigan town centre, such as Love Wigan Market fortnight.

“We have also been working with local colleges and other partners to support start-up businesses and bring new traders to the town.

“Independents make up 50 per cent of our retail offer – something we are very proud of and want to encourage.

“But we’re always keen to try out new ideas and if this has worked in America maybe we could consider bringing it to Wigan.

“I’m pleased to say that our town centre is in good health. We’ve just enjoyed an excellent Christmas period with initial estimates suggesting footfall is up an average of five per cent on the same period last year. In the market hall, compared to 2011, footfall was also up slightly in the four week period leading up to Christmas.

“It’s clear, even in this tough economic environment, people want to shop in Wigan town centre.”