Christmas isnâ€™t going to be easy this year. The shoppers may still be thronging the High Street, but their presence belies a tightening of belts taking place across the country.
Having had the first quarter of national decline in GDP for over 16 years, there are now nearly 4000 people unemployed in the Medway area, up by 250 â€“ 7 percent - in the last three months. There are four shops boarded up on Gillingham high street today and there could be more to come. A bridal shop, a grocers and a card shop have all closed down recently, but the affects of the looming recession could make things worse.
At times like this, the charity shops can be a life-line for people feeling the pinch. Ellie Smith at Oxfam said that theyâ€™re â€œdoing very well at the moment because our clothes are cheaper.â€ However, she thinks that once their current stock is exhausted â€œweâ€™re going to be stretched because people are holding onto their older clothes.â€
When it comes to housing, the effects are more severe. Tracey Vincent of Stonewall Estates said thereâ€™s been a â€œdefinite drop in sales,â€ and that first time buyers who could have got a 100% mortgage last year â€œnow need to pay at least Â£10,000 deposit for a bog-standard two bedroom house.â€ Maureen Davies has had her hours at Mann Countrywide Estate Agents cut by seven hours a week.
Not all industries are suffering so badly, though. Tim Woodlock, the owner of a bike shop, normally has a roaring trade in bikes leading up to Christmas, and this year should be no exception. His â€˜Christmas Clubâ€™ allows people to pay in instalments, with roughly five to seven hundred bikes a year being sold in the scheme. With a lot of customers already needing such a service, there may be more as times get tougher.
The Gold Merchants, who have just had their best month of the year so far, havenâ€™t been buying the jewellery people want to sell them, but theyâ€™re still finding that people are spending for their loved ones. â€œPeople wonâ€™t cancel Christmas will they? If it takes putting a couple of grand on a credit card, theyâ€™ll do it.â€ Indeed, with the economy still on the plunge, it might take just that.