TOWN CENTRE shops appear to be defying gloomy predictions by exceeding expectations and recording booming sales ahead of Christmas.

A host of independent businesses have expressed delight at the flow of shoppers and sales in December.

The apparent trend will be regarded as a fightback for the local high street, which has come under fire following store closures and growth of budget shops during the economic slump.

In an online poll on the Star’s website, more than 47 per cent of people said they were on a tighter budget than normal and another 21 per cent said they had no money at all for presents.

However, key local traders say footfall has been noticeably high.

Innovative promotions and attractions by the independent sector, plus a series of festive-themed events organised by St Helens Council, have been highlighted as one reason for the success.

Chris O’Dea, owner of OD’s, the Cotham Street-based fashion store, whose store has run a high profile marketing campaign to promote its 20th anniversary, said: “We have been doing a roaring trade. If it hadn’t been for the burglary we suffered a few weeks ago it would have been a brilliant Christmas.”

Tyrers department store, which installed a Christmas Grotto in November, has reported similar success.

Mike Duff, store manager, said: “We’ve had hundreds of people coming through the doors. The grotto helped make it a big year and we’ve also refurbished the restaurant, which people are enjoying.”

High Street chains, which are under orders from national owners not to voice opinions to the local press, were less forthcoming with opinions.

However, Chris Dawson, the entrepreneur who founded The Range, which opened at Chalon Way this autumn, said sales were significantly ahead of targets.

Budget stores are also enjoying success. Lorraine Seabrook trainee manager at the 99p Store on Church Street was delighted with Christmas trade: “Everything has been great. Christmas sales have gone really well.”