Chorley mayor predicts a retail recovery - and a bright future for traders

The mayor of Chorley says its future as a market town is secure in spite of the short-term retail challenges caused by coronavirus.

By Paul Faulkner
Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 2:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 2:54 pm

The mayor of Chorley says its future as a market town is secure in spite of the short-term retail challenges caused by coronavirus.

Steve Holgate has been spending recent Tuesdays – market day – wandering the town centre, surveying the opinion of shoppers and traders in the weeks since non-essential shops were allowed to reopen and stalls returned to the streets.

He says he has been pleased to find plenty of positivity amongst the two groups which will determine the town’s future direction once the pandemic is over.

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Mayor Steve Holgate has been making himself known to traders and customers at Chorley's outdoor market

“The retailers are relieved that the people who have visited Chorley have done so in a responsible way – and so we have avoided having the fate of other parts of Lancashire which have had restrictions reimposed.

“Nobody likes wearing a mask – I don’t – but it’s something that we need to do for now, because you can’t be too cautious with this virus.

“Given the state of the economy and the difficulty of going out and relaxing in the normal manner, the traders seem really pleased that they are getting money in the till and keeping the wolves from the door.

“And there seem to be a good number of people travelling in from outside the borough – as they always did – to visit the market. One woman had come all the way from Durham and said what a warm and friendly people we are – so I wasn’t going to disagree with that,“ Cllr Holgate laughed.

Behind the mask - a message from the mayor about keeping Chorley safe

While he fears that Covid may be the crisis that sends some other market towns to the wall, he believes Chorley is well-placed to weather the storm because of the regeneration that has already taken place in recent years.

“Shopping habits were changing long before Covid – the night-time economy is becoming more prevalent nowadays.

“It’s not going to be exactly the same market town as it was, but you don’t survive if you don’t embrace some change – and I think Chorley has probably got the mix just right,” he added.

Malcolm Allen, chair of the town’s traders’ association and owner of Malcolm’s Musicland, said he had also noticed a return of retail day-trippers from beyond the borough’s boundaries – and he believes that they could explain some apparent anomalies in the shopping stats.

“My footfall was down 50 percent during July compared to last year – and yet my takings were 15 percent up.

“I think that’s because people who have made a long journey to come to the town aren’t just going to spend a few quid and then leave – they are likely to have come ready to spend more significant amounts.

“A lot of people are also preferring somewhere lioke Chorley over places like the larger cities or shopping centres at the moment.

“It’s obvious that amongst the locals, there is a split between those who are eager to get back out to the ships and the more cautious – and I understand that.

“Hopefully, when the schools go back next month, that might also encourage a few more people into town – but at the moment, all the traders are cautiously optimistic about the way things are going,” Malcolm said.

Meanwhile, Cllr Holgate hopes that his town centre walkabouts might mark a new direction for the mayoral role in the borough.

“The mayor has always been very close to the community in terms of their work with charities and community groups, but not necessarily to individuals on the street – I’m hoping that will change as a result of this.

“I even had one young man come up to me last week and asked if my chains were real gold,” he smiled.