DESPITE challenges for the retail and hospitality sectors, CEO of Chester’s Business Improvement District (BID) says the city is "feeling pretty good" in business terms.

Christmas saw around 130,000 extra visitors to the city in comparison with the previous year, and footfall over the year was up by 1.9 percent, meaning some 16.5 million people visited Chester during 2023.

“Christmas on the whole was good,” said CEO of Chester BID, Carl Critchlow.

“I hate talking about pre-Covid as it’s so far behind us now in business terms, but it felt like it was maybe 2018 or 2019 again. There was a real buzz in the city and it didn’t necessarily align with the national commentary surrounding the high street.”

Some 40 percent of retailers in Chester reported an increase in trade compared to Christmas 2022, with 25 percent saying that it was the same as last year.

In hospitality – an industry acutely affected by the rising energy costs and recent staffing issues - 65 percent of businesses said that they had seen an improvement, with 10 percent reporting similar levels to last year.

Chester and District Standard: Many Chester businesses saw an improvement compared to Christmas 2022.Many Chester businesses saw an improvement compared to Christmas 2022.

The cost-of-living crisis has also seen a trend emerge with regards to how Cestrians spend their money.

“What we tend to see with consumers is a real drive towards quality.

“So, if I haven’t got as much money to spend, and I want to go out to spend it, I want to spend it with a quality retailer or I want to go to a nice restaurant or a good bar,” said Carl.

“If I’m only going to go out once a month instead of two or three times like I might have done five years ago, I want to spend that money with a quality business.”

Unrivalled independent businesses

Despite a squeeze on wallets and significant challenges which the CEO says it is important not to “skirt around”, there is cause for optimism.

Carl said: “We have a good mix of hospitality, retail and a good mix of national brands and independents. We’re not at the mercy of how some of those larger brands are performing at a national or sometimes international level.

“Our independent scene is unrivalled in the immediate region, even in comparison to some of the bigger cities like Liverpool and Manchester, the number of independent businesses and the quality I would put up against anyone.”

“That’s a real strength of Chester, we have so many quality operators, particularly in our independent sector - we have some outstanding restaurants and fantastic bars, and for those reasons the city has performed well.”

New investment

Current campaign #InvestChester – a collaborative project led by Chester BID alongside partners Grosvenor and Cheshire West and Chester Council – is working to attract new businesses by promoting Chester as a city open to development and investment.

Carl adds: “We want to highlight some of the key investment opportunities that we have and to encourage them to spend their money with us, rather than Liverpool or Manchester or another big city.”

Research from the campaign has identified there is high demand in the city for particular types of development, for example office space, allowing Chester BID to provide potential developers with a clear idea of the type of opportunities available.

The organisation says that alongside new developments, it is also keen to generate investment for long-standing derelict sites such as Dee House and others which require developers who are able to take on the “unique challenges” relating to conservation, which Chester faces as an historic city.