Lancaster is introducing free parking after 3pm in a desperate bid to bring shoppers back to the city in the run-up to Christmas.
The move has come after businesses reported a slow recovery following roadworks and improvements to the city centre, which has particularly affected independent traders.
With less than two weeks of festive trade to go, Lancaster BID has negotiated a deal with the city council to provide free parking on its car parks every week day after 3pm until Christmas Day. Liz Hickingbotham, manager of the BID, said the deal would be a remedy for falling year on year trade. She said: “Christmas is often the make or break point for retailers.
“There are some traders that are really struggling.
“But what we’ve got in Lancaster is great and we need something to encourage customers to come back.
“What I’m seeing is that cafe trade is recovering, but retail hard goods is not recovering as quickly.
“Customers habits have changed, the roads have closed for so long that people have forgotten to come into Lancaster.
“The view is that traffic is awful, but it’s not, and we’re most definitely open for business.”
Liz said the move was in response to traders saying something needed to be done.
The owner of Humbugs Sweetshop, in Marketgate, said his business was down 40 to 50 per cent on last year.
He added: “Various things have contributed to this. There is less movement through the shopping centre because of the work at Primark, and I’ve had to let staff go.”
Peter Corke, who runs The Market Cobbler, in New Street, said that as soon as United Utilities closed off the road into town, he noticed a difference.
He said: “It worked out I was about 10 per cent down.
“Saturdays have picked up massively, but during the week it’s not how it was last year.
“People have been put off coming into town, and it takes time to recover.”
Meanwhile Sarah Halkyard, of Gillison’s Bag Shop next door, said: “Since we moved from the market trade has been really good, but when the city centre work started, we were probably 25 per cent down.”
Mariyana Vasileva, who opened her new female clothes shop Mariyana in Penny Street a few months ago, said: “It’s not very busy. I opened on Thursday night for late night shopping and I didn’t get one customer. Things take time.”
Jerry North, manager at St Nic’s Arcades, said: “What we seem to be seeing is a settling down, but not everyone is benefiting.
“The free parking will be an added stimulus for bringing people back to the city centre.
“At St Nic’s it’s been quite good though, our major shops have seen a three per cent year on year increase, compared to a two per cent decrease nationally.
“The chains are seeing some success, and they are there to bring in customers for all the other shops, but it’s the smaller independents which are finding things difficult.”