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Big freeze kicks off a year of uncertainty

The Christmas party was short-lived for retailers this week as heavy snowfall created chaos for trading in parts of the UK.

Snow disrupted trade in shopping centres and high streets across the north of England at the start of this week before it headed to the south on Wednesday.

Figures from Footfall showed shopper numbers dropped 13.5% on Tuesday against the same day last year.

On the same day, Meadowhall, the regional mall on the outskirts of Sheffield, closed 53 of its 285 stores, while in Manchester just over half of the Trafford Centre’s stores opened.

Schemes such as White Rose in Leeds and the Arndale Centre in Manchester pulled the plug on trading by late Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday, as the snow moved south, more schemes were affected, with Brent Cross in north London saying it was “struggling” to stay open.

As Drapers went to press, the cold weather was forecast to continue through next week.

Retailers said the weather would hamper January trade. Nicky Dulieu, chief executive of womenswear chain Hobbs, said: “I was feeling confident about January but we have 10 stores closed today.”

The extreme weather kicked off a tough year for retailers, who forecast an uncertain year ahead in 2010.

Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose said: “We don’t want uncertainty. It’s important that when a new government comes in it is clear about what the medicine is and how long it has to be taken.”

John Lewis managing director Andy Street added: “We expect to see a long slow recovery, with the retailers that continue to focus on giving customers what they want prospering.”

Selfridges chief executive Paul Kelly said: “We have to be confident but remain a little cautious.”

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