TRADE in Huntingdon town centre is thriving, in spite of – or possibly because of – a general loss of consumer confidence. Some traders believe shoppers, feeling squeezed by rising fuel costs and uncertainty in the mortgage lending market, have forsaken s

TRADE in Huntingdon town centre is thriving, in spite of - or possibly because of - a general loss of consumer confidence.

Some traders believe shoppers, feeling squeezed by rising fuel costs and uncertainty in the mortgage lending market, have forsaken shopping trips to the cities in favour of local traders.

The trend seems to be replicated across most sectors of the town's retail trade.

John Hoskins, owner and managing director of Huntsbridge Limited, which owns the town's prestigious Old Bridge Hotel, told The Hunts Post: "Despite all the doom and gloom in the media, The Old Bridge is having a good year.

"Obviously all of us, as individuals, are facing higher costs. And eating out is an easy thing to cut out. But people seem still to be finding room for a special occasion, as soon as the opportunity arises. And almost everyone still has the time for a leisurely coffee, or a quick drink with their friends.

"Our bedrooms are normally full, and we are busier than ever with parties and meetings. The business community seems to be very active," he added.

"Talking to friends in the restaurant industry, I think we are perhaps the lucky ones. We have invested hugely in the Old Bridge in the last couple of years - so hopefully we are now reaping the rewards."

At the Card Gallery, in the town's market square, owner John Nunn attributed the rising trend to maintaining retail standards through a lean trading patch.

"We had a really bad spring, but last month was good and it looks like this month will be, too," he said yesterday (Tuesday).

"Generally people are not going on shopping trips to the city, and they are doing their shopping locally. Part of that will be fuel charges, but it does seem to be a general trend.

"A lot of businesses were really concerned about the future in April and May, but the ones that have stuck to the core values of quality and service have done well since.

"We felt we had to keep our staff levels and service levels up, and the product good. We have scored there."

The grocery sector is also buoyant, with Waitrose seeing increasing sales of fresh produce.

Faye Johnson, manager of the Huntingdon store, said: "We are continuing to be up year on year and doing really well. I don't know why people are saying sales are dropping."

The absence of roadworks has helped, she added, but the 'credit crunch' seemed to be having little effect either on grocery sales or on business in the John Lewis Partnership's department stores in Peterborough and Cambridge.

"As a whole, the partnership is doing well, with no serious decrease in sales across any of the divisions," she said.

"Here, the biggest growth has been in fresh food. People may have decided to cook instead of buying ready meals."

Boots manager Gareth Hayhoe has seen similar performance. "Over the last eight weeks the increase has been very substantial. We are pushing our service and value, and it may be that people don't want to go to Cambridge or Peterborough."

Sales of healthcare products had been particularly strong, he added.

One clothing retailer, who asked not to be identified, added: "Times are hard for people at the moment, but we are not suffering because of that."

Huntingdon's town centre manager, Katy Sismore, said many of the town partnership's retail members were reporting buoyant sales. "We have a vibrant town, as you can see from all the developments that are going on and planned. The picture is bright.