Whanganui retailers experienced their best year on record during 2020, despite the global rise of Covid-19 and the risk of serious economic turmoil, Whanganui and Partners says.
The economic development agency's new data shows the district had an annual spend of $569 million in 2020 - a rise of 1.4 per cent on 2019.
The result is a noticeable contrast to the national figure, where nationwide spending was down 3.7 per cent. The broader Whanganui/Manawatū region saw a jump of only 0.6 per cent.
The figure comes after a year with one of the most unpredictable economic outlooks in recent history as New Zealand grappled with months of restrictions and a rising unemployment rate.
Whanganui & Partners' Jonathan Sykes said the figure represents a local economy in a strong position.
"Nationally, 2020 was a huge slog with a drop of $2.4 billion in retail spending," Sykes said.
"To see the continued growth in local spending is a clear signal of a healthy economy and that people continue to come here, be it as visitors or new residents.
"It's not just a case of the losses being in large centres like Auckland – Palmerston North saw a retail spend drop of 2.3 per cent over the past year."
Sykes said he believed the work of Whanganui & Partners had been valuable in assisting local businesses to stay afloat.
"Whanganui & Partners has been supporting local businesses, not only through initiatives like the Regional Business Partners network but also through our biggest ever marketing campaign activity and unprecedented event support.
"In all cases, central government funding has bolstered local government support and we've worked hard to tap into these funding streams for the benefit of the local economy."
Whanganui MP Steph Lewis said she was thrilled with the figure.
"It's incredibly encouraging. I'm not going to say that with everything that's happened we're out of the woods yet, but it's certainly encouraging."
Lewis said she believed the district's economic resilience came down to both a rise in local tourism, as well as conscious support from locals.
"It aligns with what I've been seeing and hearing from local retailers and tourist operators. We are seeing a lot of people travelling domestically and Whanganui is one of the places they're coming to support.
"It is encouraging, but we need to be focused on ensuring we continue to create new job opportunities and take up the opportunity to do some retraining and re-enter the workforce in those areas where there are skill shortages."
On the street in Whanganui, businesses the Chronicle spoke to said that for the most part, they were doing well.
At Ab Fab Flowers on Victoria Ave, owner Mary Waine said the biggest issues were with international suppliers, with local business still going strong.
"Our biggest issue has been getting stock from suppliers overseas. Things are getting more expensive, but we've still got good demand locally."
Waine said she has noticed more people who had recently settled in the city choosing to splash their cash.
"It has been great. The reason is, we've got a lot of people moving here and a lot of people building here. People are moving out of the big cities and moving here, and it's great for business.
"I think, as well, because people can't travel and go on their overseas trips, they're spending money in the community."
At Paige's Book Gallery on Guyton St, manager Rochelle Handley said business was booming.
"One of the things that I think is due to Covid is that people have got the time to read again. They discovered the joy of books. I think a lot of people have also got sick of a screen."
Handley said she's also noticed an uptick in people within the city choosing to support their local businesses.
"I have people who come in here and I think they're from out of town, but they tell me they live here and used to buy their books online but now choose to support local. With such a shout out to support local, it's made people think about it."