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Overseas spending seen as an increasing threat to Island’s shops

Bermudians need to decide if they want local retail or would rather buy all but essential items overseas, according to the Chamber of Commerce's Kristi Grayston.

The chairman of the Chamber's retail division described the latest retail sales index, showing that January was the worst month for overall local sales in the past five years, as “not a big surprise”.

But she said if the downward trend continued, many store owners were likely to shut up shop.

“I would hazard a guess that most retailers didn't make any money last year,” said Ms Grayston, owner of Pulp and Circumstance.

“If things don't start to turn around, there are going to be people who wonder ‘is this going to be worth continuing?' You only need two or three or four of them [to close] and everyone else either steps up and takes on the extra or others decide ‘you are right, it isn't worth it'.

“I know a lot of people out there who are making difficult decisions at the moment.”

Ms Grayston said she hated to sound on “such a downer all the time” but cited the two percent increase in overseas spending for January, compared to the same month last year, as evidence that people were willing to part with their cash.

She said she hoped exclusive overseas shopping would become as much of a social taboo as not recycling. “Years ago, nobody recycled. People who don't now, don't admit it.

“We recognise it's not good for our community and our environment. I'm not saying you can't shop ever overseas. We know it's a leisure activity; that why we offer it to our tourists.

“But it's a little closing [of a store] here, a little closing there, and all of a sudden something is not available in Bermuda.”

Ms Grayston said customers who complained about local stores running out of their favourite items needed to appreciate that a business had to have enough cash flow to make a costly wholesale reorder.

Some shops simply aren't making that kind of money right now, she said. “People don't understand why what they want isn't in the stores. People think ‘I just need this one little thing'.”

She urged shoppers to buy two or three of a favourite product at a time, to help store owners have the funds to replenish stocks quickly.

Clothing sales fell by more than five percent in January and Ms Grayston said if consumers chose not to buy such items locally, they had to accept it may stop being an option.

“It's either going to go one of two ways,” she warned. “Bermudians are going to decide they want local retail and they are going to start supporting it or they are not.

“You'll still have pharmacies and grocery stores and all of that.”

She added that store owners had to pay transportation and duty on goods, regardless or not of whether it sold, hence why prices here were less competitive than abroad.

“I still think there's a perception out there that retailers are a bunch of fat cats, sitting with their feet up and marking up their prices to ridiculous levels. It isn't like that.”

l

Useful website: www.bermudacommerce.com

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Published March 26, 2011 at 9:20 am (Updated March 26, 2011 at 9:20 am)

Overseas spending seen as an increasing threat to Island’s shops

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