'I’ve never known anything like this': How Sunderland city centre trade has been affected by lockdown
Nearly half of Sunderland residents say they’ve visited the city centre a lot less since lockdown, according to our Big Conversation survey.
It has been well over six months since a national lockdown was imposed in March – and life in Sunderland has changed beyond recognition since then.
From queuing to enter stores and household restrictions to wearing masks, all these changes have altered many people’s attitudes, priorities and lives, which is why we asked Echo readers to tell us about what’s changed for you in our Big Conversation survey.
It looked at a range of issues surrounding the pandemic, including changes to personal lives, travel habits, health, employment, local life and fears and hopes for the post-pandemic world.
A whole section was dedicated to a shift in consumer confidence and shopping habits and, when asked, 45.1% of readers said they had visited their local town/city centre a lot less since shops were able to reopen, while 24.2% said they hadn't visited at all.
Also 30.1% said they were not comfortable eating at cafes/restaurants, 42.95% were not comfortable about going to shops/libraries, and 28.9% were not at all comfortable about going to pubs.
Watchmaker Harry Collinson Snr, has been trading in the city for forty years and is at the helm of Nomination and Collinson’s jewellers in Crowtree Road, as well as Pandora in The Bridges.
"We first opened in the city in 1981 and have traded through the pits closing and the shipyards closing, but I’ve never known anything like this,” said the business owner.
"The repair side is up 50% if not 100%, I think because people have been finding old watches during lockdown and are getting round to getting them repaired, but the retail side of the business is decimated.”
Harry has invested heavily in screens and other Covid-secure measures in the stores, but he says social distancing takes away “the magic” of buying jewellery.
"People are usually buying jewellery for a special occasion, it’s a special purchase, and they want to be able come in and browse and touch the pieces,” he said. “We have a two in, two out, policy now, so we have to lock people in.
"They can try pieces on, but they have to be put aside afterwards and sanitised that night. People need to feel safe in your store, it’s so important, or else they just won’t come back.”
Speaking about the Pandora store, he said: “Business is picking up a bit there, but that store relies more heavily on footfall, which we just don’t have at the minute.”
Harry says he hopes the business’s good name in the city will see them through. “We’re the only watchmaker left in the city who repairs on the premises without sending the watches away, which makes us unique. In some cases we’re serving a third generation of customers.”
An institution in Sunderland, Jacky White’s Market traders who sold essentials could operate during lockdown and all have reopened since, with five new stalls added.
Their individual service and quality of produce proved a recipe for success in lockdown and it’s kept people coming back.
Lynne Buddin runs Andyman Upcycling and Home Accessories in the market and although they had to close in March and April, they’ve noticed a number of returning customers since.
"We’re still playing catch up,” said Lynne. “But we’ve noticed that people really appreciate that personal service you get here. What has changed is the times people are shopping too.
"They like to come out earlier and get home earlier and as a result we now close at 4pm. Business really starts to cut off after 2.30pm, I’ve been at South Shields market today and it’s the same there too.
"People feel safer getting their jobs done and then getting home.”
Lynne says recent events have given them more time to post about their business online and, with posts reshared by Sunderland BID, it’s helped to boost trade.
A large section of city centre trade is based around consumer spending for a Saturday night out, from buying a new outfit at a clothes shop to having nails done and other treatments at a beautician.
Gerard Purvis from Port Independent clothing store in St Thomas Street says because people are unable to go to pubs and clubs as much it has a knock-on effect on retail.
"Sunderland has a real going out culture, more so than other cities,” he explained. “From my experiences working in retail elsewhere, people would go out straight from work in their work outfit, but here you go home, you get changed, you have pre-drinks, it’s much more of an occasion and we no longer have that Saturday afternoon rush of people buying a new outfit for that night.
"The clothing side has taken a nosedive, but the sales that we have made are a lot of wardrobe essentials such as hoodies and joggers.”