Traders in Donegal are reporting a downturn in Christmas trade, but a stabilisation of the value of sterling seems to have helped keep a lot of local shoppers in the county.
The drop in value of sterling against the euro in the weeks after the UK vote to leave the EU had many traders concerned about its impact on Christmas.
Traders are saying business is down on what was a very good Christmas last year, when the strength of sterling brought trade from across the border. However, a rally by sterling in recent weeks has helped ease concerns.
The strength of the euro has seen many shoppers from Donegal head across the border though.
Foyleside Shopping Centre in Derry has seen visits by Republic of Ireland registered cars increase by 30 per cent on the same time last year.
Chief executive of the Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, Toni Forrester said trade has been “steady” in the run up to Christmas but down on last year. “Obviously it will be busier this week and people are spending, but it is not as good as last year. But last year was exceptional. After a long period of flat times it was a real boom because of the exchange rate. But we feel we have kept the local people this year. Footfall may be down, but what shops are saying is that the spend per person is strong.”
In the Twin Towns, the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce say that while some traders have noticed a downturn, it has not been as bad as they feared.
Committee member of the chamber and manager of Kavanagh’s Supervalu in Ballybofey, Charlie Ferry, said there had been real concern about the exchange rate after the Brexit vote, but that has eased in the run in to Christmas as sterling stabilised. “Sterling was a real concern, but it is sitting about £0.83.5 at the minute which is much better than we had envisaged. It was in around £0.90 at one point but it has stabilised and trade has been very, very good.
“There was a big sale in McElhinney’s on December 8th. That started Christmas for the Twin towns and trade has been good since. Some traders say there has been a slight drop off but not as bad as they thought. They are trying to give a competitive exchange rate and we are pleasantly surprised.”
In Donegal town, vice chair of the Donegal Chamber and local butcher, Ernan McGettigan, said business has been quiet in general in the town but he was hopeful that shoppers would stay local in the last few days before Christmas.
“We have everything available that the large towns have and the same value,” he said. “When you come here you can get every gift you need and you can eat whatever you want. There is not a town this size that has such a large number of high quality places to eat.
“It is quieter than last year but the weather forecast is not good and we hope that will help keep people local because local traders need this. We wish people will think local and support local traders. It seems the sterling situation has sorted itself out which is good because when people get into the habit of going to Northern Ireland it is hard to get them out if it.”
The Foyleside Shopping Centre in Derry has seen trade from Donegal soar compared to a year ago due to the added value the euro has against sterling in recent months.
Number plate scanners in the centre’s car parks show visits by Republic of Ireland registered cars have leapt by almost a third. Transactions with euro credit and debit cards and currency exchanges have all increased significantly, manager of the shopping centre, Fergal Rafferty said.
He said the increase in shoppers from across the border has been noticeable for the last ten weeks.
“We have seen an uplift of 30 per cent from southern shoppers compared to last December.”
He said shoppers from Donegal are able to make savings of as much as €80 on some items in their stores and some shops are offering parity on the exchange rate.
“This time last year we had a different trend, many shoppers (from Derry) were going south because the exchange rate was 65 per cent on sterling. But here shoppers are very price savvy. The euro was up to 90 per cent at one stage so there is a clear saving to be made and many are able to get a better exchange rate on top of that again.”