Shops in a town with 85 independent retailers said it had been a positive month despite the impact of the rising cost of living.

Retail sales volumes dropped 0.4% in November, figures from the Office of National Statistic (ONS) showed.

But traders in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, said they were seeing sales return to a pre-pandemic level.

“It’s so nice to see people about in town again,” Charlotte Owen, co-owner of clothes shop H-Town Rags, said.

She said: “I think this is first year [since Covid] people have been super-excited and keen to get back into everything.

“But we have such a supportive community here in Hitchin with a lot of independent businesses, so we feel very lucky as well.”

Barbara Scott, who runs homewares store Culture Trend in Hitchin, said she was “very worried” but the rising cost of living.

“All we can do is do our best,” she said.

“We are actually back to where we were before the pandemic so [this month] has been extremely good.”

Richard Barry, from Arkley Fine Art in the town, said the pandemic was a “challenge” but there had been positives.

“We’re an independent business so we’ve had to think creatively with different shows and exhibitions, so it’s been good for us,” he said.

The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) said the strikes by the Royal Mail meant shopping in-person or collecting in store will ensure “certainty” over Christmas purchases.

But it warned small retailers would be reliant on Royal Mail to make deliveries and said they hoped to maximise sales at Christmas time.

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