Local shops had a bumper Christmas

By Ciara Quinn

SHOPS across the north may have seen a drop in business over the holiday period, but West Belfast has bucked the trend, confirming this part of the city as Belfast’s fastest-growing retail and entertainment hub.

Footfall figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) showed a year-on-year decrease of 8.7 per cent over Christmas and the New Year, with NIRC Director Aodhán Connolly describing the figures as “deeply concerning”. The decrease in the number of shoppers heading into the city centre has been variously laid at the door of online shopping and loyalist protests marking the first anniversary of the removal of the union flag from City Hall.

But in West Belfast, Kennedy Centre Manager John Jones said the line on the graph is going up, not down, with sales rising 3.5 per cent year-on-year. “And for the first time in our history we welcomed five million customers, which averages out at 100,000 customers a week,” he said.

“We are fully let and are proud to have the fastest-growing Sainsbury’s in the north under our roof,” he went on. “We had our best ever Christmas and we hope to keep on growing in 2014.

“We are offering something different to our customers on the mall and our independents continue to do well. We are proud to run a lot of events throughout the year that bring people into the store to mark occasions like Christmas when we had up to 20 schools performing on the mall. We are an integral part of the West Belfast community and we are very much behind, and supportive of, the West Belfast Traders’ Forum and host their quarterly fun days. We are already having our busiest January ever and footfall is up on this time last year. This is the trend we want to continue into the New Year with.”

Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Director of Fáilte restaurant on the Falls Road and the 26 West diner in the Kennedy Centre, Seán Duffy, said that Fáilte had enjoyed its best Christmas turnover since it opened four years ago.

“The team were absolutely delighted with how Fáilte did over the Christmas period,” he said. “Our figures show that we were up 24 per cent  in 2013 compared to 2012. That is a big increase and shows that the restaurant is more popular than ever as we increase our business takings year-on-year.

“26 West is open five months and our business there has surpassed even our own expectations. We were very, very busy over Christmas and this can only bode well for 2014. Our success is down to a hard-working team, we have great staff who work very hard and our food quality is also very important. We price competitively as we want people to spend in West Belfast, stay in the area and use the businesses that are on their doorstep.

“And we are finding that this is the case. Ultimately we want to continue to create employment in West Belfast.”

Chair of the West Belfast Traders’ Forum, Gerry Stafford, said online shopping remains a challenge to local businesses and he urged shoppers to “come into the area and engage with the businesses to source the best possible price for themselves”.

“We have a variety of established businesses in the West and we have had great success,” he said. “Traders have held family days, market days – for example in the Kennedy Centre, where our local businesses are represented and on show. We got great responses from the public but while we can bring the people in it’s up to them to go into the businesses for themselves and engage in negotiation for the best price.”

Other local businesses also noticed an upturn over the holiday period and there’s a sense of cautious optimism for the coming year.

“In the last three months of 2013 we noticed a definite improvement in sales,” said Michael Collins, proprietor of Collins Furniture on the Andersonstown Road.

“We had a very good 2013 in terms of business and while customers don’t usually tend to buy furniture or beds in the run-up to Christmas, preferring to wait for the sales, in spite of that we are well up on last year.

“We have been open for 65 years, opening the business back in 1948, and we do have a very loyal, very strong customer base. We have also noticed that a lot of younger customers are coming through the doors as well, young people who are looking for good quality furniture.

“The trend a few years ago was to have cheap, disposable furniture that would do until redecorating, but this trend is changing. Customers want a reasonable lifespan out of their furniture now. The past few years have been tough for traders and business owners but we have noticed a fair improvement this year.”

Proprietor of Noel Grimley Electrics, Eamonn Grimley,  said that although the market  remains very competitive, he has also noticed an improvement in the retail environment.

“In fairness, there was an improvement in business, although it was a tight Christmas,” he said. “We constantly try to provide our customers with the best, in terms of the standard of customer service and product, in all our electrical appliances and televisions.

“We recently celebrated being 50 years on the road in October, which was a great month for us. We intend to be here for the next 50.”

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