CHRISTMAS and New Year was always the busiest time of year for shops pre-pandemic. Independent stores said footfall was better than they expected this festive period in light of rising Omicron cases.

Brian and Christine Hopper, owners of The Vintage Emporium and Antique Centre in Hexham, said: "the week leading up to Christmas was busy because people were coming up to see their families, and a lot of people said that they had spare Christmas money. I'd say that the average transaction was higher than normal."

The Bank Holiday on Monday, 27, was quieter than usual, however New Years Eve saw steady business for the antique store.

Many local businesses don't have an online shop as they are primarily focused on managing the store, or for retailers like the Hexham Antique Centre, they have so many different sellers involved which supply various products.

Footfall increased compared to previous months for independent businesses, while spending was also better than many expected.

Gayle Foster, owner of Vintage At The Tower in Corbridge, said: "Footfall has been good, it hasn't been as busy as previous years, but better than we expected." Because the shop has been established a while, they have a loyal returning customer base.

Surprisingly, they also found new customers were travelling down from Scotland to shop.

However, the pandemic has stopped as many people coming out to shop. Gayle said: "They're not coming for a day out as they would normally."

She said: "I want to stress the importance of shopping local and supporting your local high street."

The Corbridge Garden Room, owned by Pat Wordsworth, sells a range of items including homeware and garden accessories.

Pat said: "We have definitely seen more footfall over the festive period."

Customers were also buying more home accessories in the run up to Christmas as they redecorated their homes.

"It's been a mixed bag, but we had a positive run up to Christmas," Pat said.

Keeping the shop running is the priority for Pat. She says the business is not online, as the shop pays a lot of rent and rates to stay open.

She said: "People have to keep coming back to small shops, honouring and appreciating us as shop owners and for providing a service to the community."