Aberdeen business leaders have urged residents to shop local and support city firms to help the high street recover.
New statistics released from Centre for Cities show the overall recovery and spend index of those who have been in the city centre since February.
Comparing current data with pre-pandemic levels, the data shows visitors to Aberdeen’s city centre have now dropped significantly, although it is beginning to recover somewhat.
The figures relate to everyone who was in the city centre at any time of the day and the sales that were made in the centre.
The statistics show Aberdeen starting off strong with an overall index of 124 on February 13, falling midweek but rising at weekends.
However, a huge drop is seen from March 12 – just weeks before it was announced the UK would go into a national lockdown.
On March 12, the overall index is given as 107, however, on March 22, it was just 25, dropping to a low of only 11 on April 5.
As retail was closed and the only shops open in the city centre were supermarkets and pharmacies, there was very little growth in high street recovery seen until June 24.
In Scotland, non-essential stores were able to re-open their doors from June 29, as long as they had outdoor entrances and exits.
Shopping centres were allowed to open again from July 15.
Data shows recovery was relatively strong, coming in at 76 on July 31, however, a fall again was recorded as Aberdeen entered localised lockdown restrictions, which imposed a five-mile travel ban, and prevented anyone from out with the city visiting unless for essential purposes such as work.
However, on exiting this, there was an increasing trend of overall visits to the city centre, rising to 86 overall index on October 23, but data has again fallen – peaking recently at 76 on November 27.
Aberdeen will move to level three on Friday at 6pm, following this week’s Scottish Government review – however, non-essential retail and hospitality business will remain open, however, cannot serve alcohol.
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said Aberdeen was very much still open for business and encouraged people to support their local stores and hospitality offerings.
He said: “Footfall completely dropped off at the start of the pandemic and has been increasing incrementally but we had that little blip in August when we were in local lockdown.
“We’re bitterly disappointed for our night-time economy, but there are still places open, there’s still cafes and restaurants and shops, we need that offering to remain open.
“We’ve still got the biggest retail offering north of the Central Belt.
“There’s an air of positivity in the city centre, retail has been great, it’s a very safe place to be.”
Aberdeen Inspired recently launched a gift card that can be used in 150 different places across the city centre, which he described as a real “boon”.
Mr Watson added: “There’s been a really good take-up on the gift cards.
“We still have the Christmas market with a range of sellers as well, many cities decided not to have one this year but we still wanted to.
“This is a really important week for businesses. We need to show our loyalty.
“The pandemic has accelerated what was happening to the high street – Aberdeen is not immune to that – but we want offerings to continue in the city centre and we all need people to play their part.”
The research by Centre for Cities also shows that the spend is generally coming from the suburbs, followed by from outside the city.
In general visits, more people are visiting the centre from outside of the centre – an overall index of 70 compared to 52 before lockdown.
Meanwhile, fewer people are coming in from the suburbs and the city centre itself.
However, people visiting the city centre for shopping isn’t the only figure that has fallen this year.
The number of workers in the city centre has fallen considerably and has remained relatively level since the lockdown.
In February and March, high numbers of people coming into the city to do their jobs were recorded, dropping immediately on March 23, staying relatively steady since as many office workers remain working from home.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are already hearing that following the move into level three announced earlier this week many bars and restaurants plan to remain closed until at least February or longer. Some might never reopen at all.
“Meanwhile retailers in our city centre and towns have around half of their catchments cut off as people cannot travel between Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Given that the economic and social eco-system of this region does not recognise local authority boundaries, this makes little sense.
“The Scottish Government must urgently undertake a further review of the Strategic Framework. This review should aim to publish a refreshed plan for reopening the economy which sets out a clear timetable for the reopening of vital sectors.
“And as we move into 2021 we must ask our governments to begin to trust businesses as part of the solution to getting our economy back on track rather than as places that are treated as the cause of the spread of the infection.”
The next review of the framework by the Scottish Government is on Tuesday.
David Groundwater, Federation of Small Business (FSB)’s development manager for Aberdeen, said: “Anyone that’s been in the city centre can see it’s much quieter than usual due to the pandemic but they will have also noticed a boost in recent weeks as we run-up to Christmas.
“We’ve seen businesses do all they can to adapt and remain open while at the same time ensure a safe environment for staff and customers alike but it’s vital that we all continue to follow the guidelines to help suppress the virus.
“Although Aberdeen City enters level 3 restrictions from Friday evening, retail and some hospitality businesses remain open and there’s still time to show your local business some love by grabbing that last-minute gift.
“No matter where you are, it’s vitally important to help support our small business community where you can to ensure we have a high street and city centre when we exit the pandemic. We can do this by using the local firms in your community whenever you can; seeking out independents online, buying vouchers to spend later or through initiatives such as the newly launched Aberdeen Gift Card, spearheaded by Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen Inspired and FSB member Miconex.”