Chocolate shop owner 'gutted' she has been forced to shut her Lisburn Road boutique
A chocolate shop owner has said she is "gutted" she has been forced to shut her "pride and joy" Lisburn Road boutique due to high rents, rates and a massive drop in footfall.
The Chocolate Room has been up and running on the south Belfast thoroughfare for more than a decade.
But owner Joanne McFall (38) says that a drop in footfall - which she blames on the arrival of a larger Marks & Spencer store - along with high rents now means she will shut her doors next weekend.
"Lisburn Road has definitely changed over the last few years," she said.
"And then the M&S moved in - people then drove in to it, stayed there, and didn't walk about. So, there was much less footfall."
M&S occupied a small unit on the road but moved last year to former Co-op premises, with a large car park.
Ms McFall bought over the Chocolate Room three years ago, after managing it for a decade. The business sells handmade chocolates, Easter eggs and made-to-order products.
And she says a number of other long-running firms have been forced to shut - including hardware store Munn's, which closed last year after more than 70 years in business.
"The first year in 2012 was brilliant, and it wasn't too bad the next, but around January last year I started to struggle.
"Easter was OK, but when May hit, business just died. Rents and rates have been colossal on this road.
"And the parking is just atrocious and people can't get to your business. There are also big names like Caffe Nero moving in - that killed my coffee business. I used to sell cakes and scones, but I ended up having to throw them out.
"Something needs to be done. I don't want to have to close and I am gutted."
Peter Ludlow of next door menswear shop Ludlow - which has been in business for 27 years - said it had taken a hit over the last six years.
"Rates continually rose, and we finally got a break with them. The rates have been disgraceful," he said.
Ms McFall said she had hopes of finding another location for her chocolate business, or move to selling online only.
"It's my pride and joy. But I'm looking for another location - it would need to be around half the cost here."
Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said the closure was a "sad loss".