The gloves are off.
The independent retail sector in Northern Ireland is fighting back against a raft of difficult factors in the current trading environment in the run up to Christmas. Across the board, Chambers of Commerce, local politicians and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland MLA are pulling together to encourage shoppers to support their local independent traders.
Minister McCausland launched this year’s Shop Independent at Christmas entitled “Have an Independent Christmas” at independent furniture shop ReFound in Belfast. This campaign is about encouraging consumers to do more of their christmas shopping with independent traders and explore what our town and city centres have to offer. But whether the retail outlets are in Belfast and the main urban centres or smaller provincial towns, shoppers are being asked to shop local and look towards the independent retailers.
The current recession, the increase in online shopping and the present political unrest are all taking their toll on the retail sector in Northern Ireland’s shops and it is hoped that this pre-Christmas campaign will focus minds to support local businesses.
Down District Councillor Dermot Curran, SDLP local economy spokesperson, said: “We need to get our local economy off the ground. It is vital that we support this initiative. I have been personally involved in lobbying the MInister on matters to help local businesses and I certainly welcome this move.
“At present our independent business sector is going through a very tough time and they need to pull through the present economic difficulties. They are the businesses who employ most of the workers in Northern Ireland. I am delighted that Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has pushed through a rates relief measure for local businesses but it has yet to come into effect.
“Shoppers need to think local. I know our shops in Downpatrick and Newcastle have an excellent range of goods and while shoppers are always keen to spend their money and save a pound, we do need to look at the effect our spending is having on our local economy. And also local shops do need to be competitive too in their supply of goods and services. We are coming through a very difficult time and need to work together on this.”
Audrey Byrne, President of Newcastle Chamber of Commerce,who has campaigned strongly for local businesses in recent years, said: “Smaller and independent shops need to had their own identity and need to be supported by the local communities. Many in our district are second and third generation businesses, and if we lost those in our town centres, eventually we would have a lot of vacant premises and gap sites which you would see in a lot of American towns.
“We need to keep our local economy supported by spending our money there.”
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts added: “This Christmas we are making a special plea to encourage consumers to do that little bit more of their Christmas shopping with local independent retailers. If even five or ten percent more of consumers shop independent this Christmas, it would be of great benefit to those local traders”
“There are many bargains to be found with independent retailers in every one of our villages, towns and cities in Northern Ireland and we urge consumers to shop around”
“Our campaign message is simple. For every £1 you spend with a local, independent business, between 70 pence circulates back into our local economy and supports the local suppliers and the community as a whole. For every £1 you spend with a multiple supermarket, only 5p trickles back into the local economy”
“Northern Ireland has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK with 1 in 5 small shops are now vacant in our town and city centres and sadly unless many local traders have a good Christmas this year, that figure is going to move to 1 in 4.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland MLA speaking at the launch said: “I am happy to support efforts to address the problems faced by our town and city centres in these tough times. NIIRTA’s, will encourage support for our independent retailers, and complement the work that my Department does to create welcoming, accessible and attractive Town Centres. I congratulate NIIRTA on the initiative that they have shown and wish them well in their campaign.”
Jill O’Neill Founder of ReFound said: “We opened ReFound in the height of the recession, after trialing the brand with a number of Pop-Up Shops. I believe the pop-up concept can offer consumers something really different this Christmas as well encouraging the next generation of independent retail entrepreneurs and refilling vacant shops.”
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ReFound is a grassroots creative business centred on bringing a fresh and stylish new approach to recycling, reinventing furniture and home interior products. Showcasing unique, upstyled products from more than 50 artists, makers and designers, ReFound is the only shop in Belfast’s ‘High Street’ that is wholly dedicated to sustainable wares. Housed in a previously empty building, a late Georgian Terrace situated at 7 Wellington Place, ReFound has found the perfect setting for their restyled products.