Central Wanganui retailers are looking for an events-driven kickstart to the year to make up for a disappointing end to 2011.
Latest data from Eftpos service provider Paymark showed the value of transactions processed in December fell 0.7 per cent on the same month in 2010. However, a flurry of key events looks set to give some impetus to the local economy.
Starting next week is the International New Zealand Vintage Car Club Rally which is set to bring $12 million to the region. Wellington Anniversary Weekend could also be prosperous with a range of events centred around the rally, including the Mainstreet Wanganui Caboodle (see sidebar).
Following on from those are the World Jet Sprint Series championships at the Shelter View Track at Upokongaro in February.
Mainstreet marketing manager Elise Goodge said most CBD retailers had reported a slight increase on 2010 or the same turnover.
"They had hoped for a significant increase. Initial paymark figures indicated a 1 per cent growth in Wanganui which to me sounded about right.
"They are now reporting a 0.7 per cent decrease shows that in the week before Christmas spending died off."
The internet was having a huge impact on retail turnover.
"Big online companies can undercut retail outlets as they don't have the same overheads. Being a small town we don't have the diversity of product on the shelves that is available on the internet.
"I believe very shortly that in order to survive many stores will have to have two shop fronts, one on the street and one online."
By region, annual spending growth through Paymark was strongest in Palmerston North (+7.7 per cent), South Canterbury (+6.9 per cent), Southland (+6.5 per cent), Otago (+5.4 per cent) and Auckland/Northland (+5.2 per cent).
Weak annual growth rates were recorded in Canterbury (-0.9 per cent), Marlborough (-0.8 per cent) and Wanganui (-0.7 per cent).
The December figures showed that while the value of transactions fell 0.7 per cent, the volume dropped by only 0.2 per cent.
Ms Goodge said this variation may be explained by some families who had set rules to help them get through the festive season with their credit card intact. "Such as putting a limit of $5 on gifts or having a secret Santa so that you only have to buy one gift. I also spoke to many people who had, had trouble affording Christmas dinner and had abandoned expensive hams and lamb roasts in favour of chicken or a barbecue with meat patties and sausages."
Some Wanganui people were shopping out of town, especially in Palmerston North, which helped explain the large rise there.
It also had a bigger catchment.
"Wanganui loses custom there due to the diversity of stores and the longer opening hours of the retailers there."
But Wanganui had a successful late shopping night on Thursday, December 22 with some retailers reporting it was the biggest pre-Christmas late night they had ever had.
Boxing Day was also a big success for many retailers in the CBD, Ms Goodge said.
Christmas party bookings were up a little last year in Wanganui though companies still weren't spending on Christmas parties like they did several years ago, she said.
Weddings were on the increase with a lot booked for September through to January resulting in positive flow through to the hospitality sector, she said.
Ms Goodge was fearful that people who had paid for Christmas on their credit cards might impact on spending later in the year.
"We are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination."
While the hospitality sector tended to reap most off the back of the large-scale events, Wanganui has a lot to look forward to in this next quarter with the International VCC Rally and the World Jet Sprint Championships coming to town.
"All events are good for the local economy as they bring people to town who intend to spend money."