Retailer remains optimistic for tourism
Retail sales figures continue to drop dramatically — down nearly 9 per cent in the year to November, as overseas declarations rose 10 per cent.
The Government said people are back to travelling off the island again and that means more clothes purchased overseas.
The climb of overseas purchases has devastated local shopkeepers.
But if there’s a dean of Front Street retail, it is probably David Hamshere. He was there in the heyday of Bermuda tourism in the 70s and 80s.
He was a veteran even then, having joined what is now the century-old retailer, The English Sport Shop, 64 years ago.
And that’s no typographical error.
He has been a retailer on the city’s “main drag”, Bermuda’s “Main Street”, since 1958.
Not much about retail you can tell him. And in a world where “business casual” is a thing, he still has not changed from jacket and tie.
At 82, David Hamshere still goes to work classily dressed, in classic attire.
And while business at TESS Ltd (the acronymic name for the parent company of The English Sports Shop, Marks & Spencer and Lusso) has felt the onslaught of the two-year pandemic, the majority owner maintains a positive outlook and has kept staff employed.
He has seen the city’s troubled retail scene and knows the struggles of his peers. He is not just seeing today’s fellow retailers going out of business, he saw the end of significant-sized retailers some years ago — Trimingham’s, Smith’s, Cooper’s, all icons of Bermuda retail.
“It was major when those companies left — substantial businesses,” he said, “in one case trading for 120 years.
“The English Sports shop has been in business for more than 100 years (1918) and we’ve seen many changes, some that have affected what people can earn.
“But we are trying to keep it going.”
Asked what he sees for the year ahead, he simply says: “Weddings and funerals have kept us going. And now, we can hopefully get a decent tourism season.”
He said: “Obviously, we’re concerned. We are hopeful of what we will see when the cruise ships return.
“But it has been a wedding feast in Bermuda, right now, over the last couple of months since Christmas. When there is a wedding and 13 people or so require fitting and suits and ties and everything else, that’s good business for The English Sports Shop.
“Lately, they’ve come along, probably as a result of a pent-up demand after the last two years of delays. I think people are making the decision to go for it now, after waiting out the pandemic.
“So we are getting groups of 13, 14, 15 people — a group of people requiring the same colours but different sizes for weddings, advanced orders for events right through April and May. Things picked up considerably. It’s a good sign and long may it continue. That part of it is working out quite well. We can’t complain.”
Other mainstays of the business are school uniforms, although that business has shrunk considerably because of declining numbers of schoolchildren and less emphasis on the complete kit of yesteryear.
Mr Hamshere noted: “It’s not just fewer students, but schools are doing away with their crests and saying a white shirt or blue shirt is good enough. It is totally different, now”
The English Sports Shop may also be best known for the Alexandre London suits and menswear rich in style and heritage.
He says more people are buying suits than expected anyway, after a slow pre-Christmas period. He said there has been an increase in suits needed for funerals.
“There is no question that business has been slow in Bermuda. And without the weddings and funerals it would be a very sorry situation for us. Of that, there is no question, because there are no very strong business groups coming in. There were some pre-Christmas, but it has really dried up since then.
“In our business, since last September it was pretty slow until Christmas and then it kind of exploded. We had a very good Christmas business. We had to replenish stock quickly. We are expecting stock now.
“But business is not what it used to be. And I read there had been a recent exodus from Bermuda. You can’t lose 1,200 people over a year and expect it to remain the same.
“But we have all of our employees working. We haven’t had to push anyone aside to lower the overhead. We have been lucky and just completed a good week — 29 per cent over the same week last year.
“We’re optimistic that if we get the tourists here, we’ll be OK. Until then, the group business has helped.”